Heritage and Hushpuppies: An Interview with Chef Breanna Beike

Chef Breanna Beike, Heritage Restaurant, Woodinville, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Chef Breanna Beike, Heritage Restaurant [dailyblender.com]

Chef Breanna Beike will be the first to tell you she had a good reason for naming her restaurant, “Heritage.” The vibrant chef shares her culinary inspiration with joy – the memories of cooking with her Mom, the gardens of her grandparents, the desire to celebrate the fruits and labor of the local community. When she relocated from the Midwest just a few years ago, she brought her inspiration with her, recipes and all, sharing the tradition of family and food with the guests who frequent her dining room.

Beike and her husband/partner, Chris Brende, opened Heritage Restaurant and Bar in early 2018, at the center of Woodinville wine country. A welcome addition to the community, Heritage has become a popular stop for both residents and visitors, serving lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. The restaurant shares additional event space with a neighboring tasting room, and provides charcuterie and cheese plates for a number of nearby wineries, offering guests a more robust winery tour experience.

It’s super heartwarming when regulars come in. Getting to know them, and then you know them on a name basis. You start talking about their kids and landscaping. It’s really great.

Midwest Is Best

Q: How did you become interested in cooking?
A: Grandparents, mom. We had family dinners on Sundays, and my mom cooked dinner five, six days a week. She baked a lot, and I enjoyed it. Holidays, family gatherings. It’s all around the dinner table. I got into high school and they had culinary classes and I really loved it. Really enjoyed it. I knew I didn’t want to do anything else.

Q: Were there favorite family dishes?
A: My mom always did cheesecakes, homemade cookies. We did a lot with pork. Both grandparents had big gardens, but my Mom’s dad an acre of garden space. I still have his bean pot, and I remember going out there and picking green beans and dropping them into this old aluminum pot. (I never put it in the dishwasher!) Everything from the garden. Fresh ingredients. It was a huge influence, and I really learned seasonality. We had a house full of meat and potatoes, too. So delicious. That’s the Midwest.

Q: Have you brought any of those dishes with you to the Pacific Northwest?
A: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of things. Especially with my German heritage. Braised red cabbage, German potato salad. My dad used to make this brown gravy and put it on everything, so I made this lamb and meatball dish last fall and called it “Walt’s Brown Sauce.” I have a lot of mom’s recipes that I’ll use for things. Little bits from her menu.

Q: Are you a bit of a celebrity when you make it back to the Midwest?
A: No. I think growing up as an only child – my parents were divorced – a lot of the spotlight feels like just part of the job. It’s not about being on the front page of the magazine or my own brand of cookware. When I go home, it’s super chill. My friends are laid back and we just want to eat and drink. Now, I’m so far away from my people, and it’s almost like the time spent with your friends and the little hole in the wall places that you used to eat at really feed your soul. You get a chance to get caught up. Of course, we talk about the restaurant as well, but it really takes the backseat. No celebrity-ism for me.

I think one of the greatest parts of really loving food is that I also really do love people. The whole celebrity thing really scares me. You start getting three, four, five restaurants. How do you get to all of them? It kind of scares me. I’m still attached to this, and I’m not quite ready to spread my wings right yet. I don’t know if my husband’s ready for it yet. We’ve talked about it, but we’re happy where we are right now.

Knife Skills

Q: What was your road to getting into the kitchen?
A: I was in culinary classes and wanted to find a kitchen job during my freshman year in high school. One of the guys in the class was working at a country club and I asked if they were hiring. He said, “I don’t know, let me see,” and a few weeks after that, they had a dishwasher position. It was my first real kitchen job. I went from washing dishes to the pantry. I got to make desserts. I moved over to the little poolside cafe and worked the grill. And I did that through high school until I got to culinary school. I got quite the knife skills education before I even arrived to culinary school.

A lot of times, people will ask me my thoughts on culinary school, and I’m so glad I did it. I so highly recommend it. But in terms of the real-life experience, you’re going to get that from being in a real kitchen, working for a chef, trying to work for as many chefs as you can. Hone your own style and learn where your creativity will fall, what kinds of foods you love to cook, what your cuisine is. You won’t get that unless you get the opportunity to learn in a variety of kitchens.

After culinary school, I was still in Chicago, working at a hotel downtown. Shortly after that, I decided to move to back to Indiana when I got my first sous chef job, but I got bored within a year. I applied for an executive chef job in Chicago and returned.

I was traveling out to the Pacific Northwest for years, and into Sonoma, and just really loved it. By the time I turned 30, I was pretty unhappy in the Midwest, and I came out to do a tasting room dinner in eastern Washington. A month after that, I found a job, and three weeks after that, I was moving. I landed at the Seattle Yacht Club for four years. Quite the experience, lots of pomp and circumstance. A lot of creativity. The whole place has a number of committees and a solid financial background. It really geared me up for this experience. Food cost, P&Ls, vendor relationships. All of that applies to what I’m doing at Heritage. There were 2,400 members, and holidays quadrupled those numbers. There were things I had to keep on the menu, but anytime I wanted to play with a dish, I could put something new on, and have the opportunity to play, and not every place is like that.

Q: And your husband became involved as well?
A: I moved out here in September 2013. I met him at the end of October 2013. Very quick. We were sure about each other when we met. We moved in together within six months and he’s been nothing but a supporter of mine and my number one cheerleader. He supports me and catches me when I fall.

He was the deciding factor. The Heritage location came up and we started looking into it, and I wasn’t sure, but he was like, “I think we should go for it.” So we put in our letter of intent and gathered all our thoughts for a business plan, and here we are. He’s my partner in crime. I couldn’t imagine a better business partner. He’s very involved.

Q: Did he have a background in restaurants?
A: No. Retail hardware, EMT. It was crazy. In terms of the hardware background, he can really do all of the facility things we need done. He’s learned every aspect of the restaurant, from dishes to helping me in the pantry, plus food running. I think it’s really great to have a Jack of All Trades. He’s my secret weapon.

Q: What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned since you opened Heritage Restaurant?
A: Oh my. Many. It’s super heartwarming when regulars come in. Getting to know them, and then you know them on a name basis. You start talking about their kids and landscaping. It’s really great. Time is of the essence, and you don’t get a whole lot of it. Time away when you can get it is really important. And when you do get a day off, it’s important that you’re not looking for that mate to those socks that the dryer ate. So when we finally get time away, we take time together, and we don’t talk about restaurant stuff, and we get back to our home life.

The business changes every day. No day is the same. From people who walk in the door to the weather to the number of reservations.

All the seasons are different. You don’t want to charge people a lot of money, but when your product costs start to go up and your food costs start to go up, and you add the labor, you have to raise the prices. You have to do that because it’s a business, and it could change at the drop of a hat. We learned that last winter when we had a bunch of snow. It was two weeks of hell when I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to make payroll. The cash flow in this business is just up and down. And then the weekend after the snow was one of our highest grossing weekends. A blessing to make up for all of that.

People can be hard. The staff can be hard, the public can be hard. Yelp is just…ugh. We have a lot of really great reviews, but we also get a few bad ones. I love that because if you don’t get that constructive feedback, you don’t know what to improve. But it’s the reviews that say, “Everything was terrible and I’m never going back,” that are really upsetting. Did you say something to someone? Did you give us the opportunity to correct the situation? No. I’m here most nights, and if you don’t tell us, how are we going to fix it? I would love to make you something else. And a lot of times, people just don’t do that. They just go home mad and write terrible reviews, and that can make or break someone’s business. I try to be really consistent and respond to all of them, whether it’s really good or not great. It comes right to my watch, and I’ll be in the middle of a busy Saturday service and get an unhappy review and I’ll immediately try to jump online and respond back. You have to do that.

Q: And working with your spouse?
A: You know, I think we’ve really learned to separate it. I get all gushy about it because it’s really kind of fun. Sometimes he gets on my nerves and I’m sure as heck that I get on his nerves, but I’m the luckiest woman alive. He puts up with my craziness. You have to be crazy to put up with this business. It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun to talk about things. It’s fun to collaborate and plan – “What do you think of this? I don’t know if I like it. You know, I don’t know either.” It’s ours. It’s our family business. It’s fun to share that together. You really have to take those strides to not talk about it during your time away, from really good things to little problems. It’s hard to flip that switch, but there’s no one else that I’d rather do business with. Honest to God.

It Takes A Village

Q: What would be your advice for new restaurateurs?
A: Don’t give up. Cashflow goes up and down. Have fun. Enjoy it. Get through the first year. Give it a full year. People are hard – the public will come at you, staff will come at you every once in a while. Keep your fingers crossed and always have hope. The culinary industry is tight. Everyone’s looking for line cooks, and you should be prepared to pay them well, because everyone else is. In order to get quality staff, you’re going to have to pay them and treat them well.

Q: Tell me about your work within the community. 
A: I found out there was a food bank in Woodinville. I had no idea. It wasn’t something that was talked about, it wasn’t in the paper. I got an introduction and we really wanted to pick local things, from here in Woodinville, in order to donate. We found out there weren’t any restaurant partners, so we signed up right away. We donate produce every Monday. We did a giving tree at the end of last Christmas season, and we were able to contribute $2000. I sat down with one of the directors and she was able to give me a rundown of their programs, and she mentioned Care Day. She explained that 75 providers, from haircuts to dental cleanings, come together to support the families. All for low-income and homeless folks in the community. She mentioned that they also provide a meal. She said they had served 650 people the year before and they anticipated more this year. I immediately offered to help. I hit up our produce company, our meat company, local farmers, and we put together a meal. It was very emotional. I’ve already signed up for next year.

People think the Eastside is affluent, and there’s a lot of money here, and they quote the median salary and the median house values. But that food bank feeds 60 to 70 families a week here in Woodinville. They estimated that we fed over 800 people for that Care Day meal. If I can help by cooking a meal or calling our food vendors, I’ll do that. Hopefully that process will create a greater awareness.

Q: Are there any particular crowd favorites on the Heritage menu?
A: I have to laugh because when we opened, I put the trout, the Heritage hushpuppies, and the jar of pie on the menu – and I can’t take them off. They’re our highest selling items. People come back and ask, “Man, I really want the trout,” or the hushpuppies. Those have been popular items that I thought were simple, maybe not the most creative, but people really enjoy them.

Sometimes it’s the simplicity of things that people really enjoy.


~Jennifer Matthewson

Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender

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