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Interview with Beet and Basil… Story by Leah Roth

Sandpoint has had its cornerstone restaurants around for decades, serving their trademark dishes and family comfort food for as long as locals can remember. However, when coming up with the idea for their restaurant, owners Jeremy and Jessica Holzapfel wanted to do something unique.

“There [were] a lot of different people that wanted to come into this space but…what it came down to was they were all high end fine dining restaurants again…they do higher end food, but we aren’t that …we prefer to bring alternative food into town and to fill a niche that never existed, or fill a niche that existed but that no one ever attempted to fill.”

After working for a variety of different restaurants both here and in Seattle, Jessica began to experiment with different exotic ingredients and spices.

“…we would leave town to find Indian food, to go get Pho, to go get Malaysian fried rice. We’d go to the international district in Seattle and walk around and try random things that we have no idea what it is because it’s not in English and then decipher what it is once we’re eating it…as we went to spice stores, she (Jessica) would open the different spices and smell them. She bought endless spices just to try, to experiment. So…for the last decade our house was like a constant array of different smells. You felt like you were in a different country every other day when you walked in our house just because of how intense the spice aromas were, because she’d be stewing something or something would be brining. She’s not afraid of spice, but she also learned how to balance it, and that’s really great for these dishes that she does here.”

While living in Seattle, they had an idea for a restaurant.

“So Beet and Basil was an idea that we’d had when we were a little bit younger in Seattle. Jessica had been bouncing around kitchens in Seattle, kind of learning on the fly… she started working at a bunch of different restaurants in Seattle, and she worked at this one ‘Poppy’ up on Capitol Hill, and it was an Indian fusion restaurant. The [chef] of the restaurant was (also) the chef at a really famous restaurant called ‘The Herb Farm’ (which) has a farm on premises, (and the restaurant is located) outside of Seattle. They harvest all of their own herbs and all these different things so they can integrate them into the dishes, and the dishes are very high end, fine dining. So as she was working for him in Seattle…they had people that just brought them strawberries, and they had…several people that brought them mushrooms and that foraged for them in the mountains.

Goblet of Fire… the spicy Chicken Vindaloo Bowl features a myriad of Indian spices
Goblet of Fire… the spicy Chicken Vindaloo Bowl features a myriad of Indian spices

So Jessica would receive all of this food and then it would become dishes and specials that the chef would come up with, and Jessica was a line cook at the time and so she would just make whatever she was told to and…it was super inspiring for her, but even there it was like she wanted to learn more. She just kept moving to different restaurants around the city and learned from all of these different chefs that happened to be in Seattle. While we were there we started to develop a concept, and we wanted to do a food truck. Then as we were developing this food truck…about 6 years, maybe even 7 or 8 years ago now, we also were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring all these flavors back to Sandpoint?’”

A few years later, they did just that and launched the Beet and Basil Bus in 2016. Parked in front of Evan’s Brother’s, the food truck was wildly successful and soon gained a local reputation. They sold food from May to October, and had planned to open for another season this year. However, fate had something better in mind.

“…we did the food truck and we weren’t sure how that was going to be received, so we did a lot of social media before we opened, we had a lot of friends in Sandpoint, because we’re from here, and we both moved here. She moved here when she was 15 and I moved here when I was 16, so we kind of grew up here in our 20’s and we’ve made endless roots here. So the truck did amazing like it was shocking how many people – we only survived on locals because we were parked in front of Evan’s Brother’s in the parking lot, kind of away from everything, didn’t have money to advertise so we used social media and word of mouth. I was still running the Starbucks store, between the two stores at the time, and so trying to support her and the truck, and then Jessica was also the chef at Spud’s when she opened the truck, so she would run the truck service and be open from 11 o’clock to 4 o’clock at the truck and go and open Spud’s for dinner at 5. She was working like 13 to 14 hours like 5 to 6 days a week and it was really crazy and really trying, but we were basically taking as much money as we could and putting it into creating this concept.”

Unlike typical restaurants, their diverse menu is ever changing.

“She never went to culinary school. She started as a dishwasher, actually at where Trinity is now, it was called The Beach House and that was in like 2000 or 1999. At the same time she started working at Spud’s and was a sandwich girl…At that time, Jessica hated tomatoes and sprouts and mushrooms and any seafood, like endless things, it was crazy. We started dating back then. Then she started working her way through kitchens here and quickly became a line cook at Spud’s…She would get bored over time doing the same food. Restaurants in Sandpoint tend to be very static, as far as like the food that they make…but I’m a super foodie and I have been since I was young. My mom was a pastry chef and I’ve been exposed to a lot of food from everywhere my whole life. So when Jessica and I started dating, I cooked mostly and so it was like whatever I felt like cooking and then she’d try it and we’d be kind of falling in love with all kinds of foods, and as she was kind of moving around, basically we ended up moving to Seattle because certain circumstances brought us there.”

Little Bowl of Asia… Vietnamese Pho Chay noodle soup
Little Bowl of Asia… Vietnamese Pho Chay noodle soup

Today you can explore the flavors of the world right from their dining room. North African Harrisa Shakshuka, Indian Chicken Vindaloo, Vietnamese Pho Chay, Malaysian Rendang Beef Curry, Cuban Press Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Korean Chicken Fried Steak Sandwiches–one of my personal favorites–and more are available for under $25.

“Our customers are accepting of our menu. They’ve learned it, they have their favorites. And we’ve kept what we call the five favorites from the bus and they’re on the menu always, so you can get them at lunch or dinner, they’re always there. But the rest of the menu changes, and now that everybody’s kind of gotten used to our menu, we’re actually going to expand it coming up here. Every month there’ll be a menu that has four or six different items on it, and they’ll stay on the menu for a month at a time so that the kitchen gets used to making those items and it isn’t a constant game of retraining and retraining everybody that’s working every shift. For our customers it’ll be a lot more exciting because for that whole month they can be sure that we’ll have those items, and they’ll actually be able to count on that fact. But we’re also going to use the larger menu template so we can showcase local farms [and] businesses that we work with.”

Not only is it delicious, many of the ingredients are organic and locally sourced.

“At home we eat mostly organic produce, we try not to eat very much processed food whatsoever… What we believe in is that our dollar is our vote. Yes, we had to pay more for the organic food. Yes, we had to pay more for this beef because it came from a local ranch. Yes, we had to do these different things and it cut into our budget, and it was more expensive, but it was also our vote… So here we are on a larger stage, and we buy thousands of dollars in food. We get to make that vote with a larger dollar, and we make our food purveyors find us these things or we search them out and we find the locals that will grow us different crops…It reminds me of what ‘The Herb Farm’ was and what ‘Poppy’ that Jessica worked for, the same chef, where he would go out and harvest the herbs from out back.”

Everything is done with the customer in mind.

“What we’ve learned is that people really like our food, and we get rave reviews on our food. We have opportunity with our service sometimes and with our hosting, and getting people set. But what that teaches me is those are high expectations, and I… don’t want to fail those expectations when people are telling their friends to come here.

So the only thing we can do is to not rest on our laurels and to continuously work to get better. To look for every single problem and make it be an opportunity to fix it, and have an open mind and not try to get caught up and frustrated in the day to day stresses of the restaurant, like customer flow and all these things. We have to come back to center and be like “How do we make this fun?” every day. [Sic]

But I like taking care of problems and problem solving. That’s probably my favorite thing…we have these compostable little plastic containers that we do to-go Pho soup in, and the Pho is really hot, like extremely hot to the point that it starts to melt the [plastic]. So we actually had to re-source and we found a new container that has a honey wax in it so it’ll actually break down that will actually preserve that paper. So it’s pretty awesome, I’m like “Okay. Yup. There we go. There it is right there, this is exactly what we’ve been looking for.” It’ll eliminate the spill for the customer, which elevates that customer experience, and makes it so that they don’t question ever ordering that item because they’re afraid that it’s going to spill in their car like it has in mine.

Come Visit!... Beet and Basil is located at 105 S 1st Ave in Sandpoint, ID
Come Visit!… Beet and Basil is located at 105 S 1st Ave in Sandpoint, ID

So just problem solving little things like that makes the customer experience better, makes them able to trust everything about the product. It seems so little, but when you are doing that all day every day, evaluating and fixing all these little things, it becomes a huge thing.”

 

He’ll even refer them to other restaurants in the area.

“…it’s amazing what word of mouth does. The businesses on this strip alone, sending people here this summer, is where everyone came from. They’d be like, “Where should we go eat?” and they’d be like, “Go to Beet and Basil.” The pizza place was telling people to come here! If you didn’t want pizza, they were like, “Oh, go over [there].” Even Ivano’s was doing it, they were sending people here. And we would send people [there]. I’d have people come in here so shocked by the menu, like it scares them, and if I can tell I’m not going to win them, I’ll instantly refer them to our sister restaurants. If it’s lunchtime, I’ll send them down to [City Beach] Organics, and I’ll send them to Spud’s, and I’ll send them down to McDuff’s Brewery. At dinnertime I’ll send them over to Ivano’s and be like, “They have Italian food here…” and I’ll explain the menus of each of the restaurants because that’s another huge thing.

I am not jealous of any restaurant, and I’m not trying to compete with any restaurant. I’m trying to fill a niche that isn’t filled, and be the other option.

Our number one mission is to stick to our values and also deliver on our concept, and to fill that niche that’s missing—or that’s there. So, to actually bring exciting new flavors and ethically source those ingredients, and figure out ways that we can do this using sustainable products.

And also, if I could give one piece of advice that I’ve learned through all my time…is never burn a bridge. Never burn a bridge…and always make sure you have good work ethic. Those are so important, and they have opened up so many opportunities for us because we hold true to those different values and it’s amazing what it does.”

Beet and Basil is a great restaurant run by even greater people. The next time you’re looking to eat something new, stop by in downtown Sandpoint for a unique dining experience.

All Photos by Lauren Roth

Picture 1: Goblet of Fire… the spicy Chicken Vindaloo Bowl features a myriad of Indian spices. Photo by Lauren Roth

Picture 2:

Picture 3: Come Visit!… Beet and Basil is located at 105 S 1st Ave Sandpoint, ID. Photo by Lauren Roth

Cover Photo by Lauren Roth