The tightly-knit management team that is revitalizing the former Merenda restaurant in downtown Bend wants future patrons to know that the new restaurant is not Merenda … even though its basic appearance and a majority of its staff will be the same.
Tentatively dubbed “900 Wall,” for its street address, the new restaurant is expected to be opened by April 2 for lunch and dinner seven days a week, according to Millette.
Mike was general manager of Merenda and Deep from mid-2006 until the restaurants’ closure early last year. I joined him and several other Merenda/Deep holdovers — chef Cliff Eslinger, bartender Marcus Egge, dining-room manager Katie Black and lead server Eric Adams — at an informal wine-tasting this afternoon at the restaurant. Bartender Rod Bramhall, another member of the carry-over team, was not present.
Major renovation is already underway at 900 Wall. The main entrance has been altered and the bar is being expanded. The main dining room will lose 10 to 14 seats, but high-backed booths are being installed there, some to accommodate groups of eight or more. The upstairs seating area will become more a daily seating section than something left for overflow.
Perhaps most significantly, Cascade Audio Engineering is installing acoustical tiling across half the ceiling, intended to reduce the previous noise level of the restaurant and bar by 25% to 30%. “The No. 1 negative comment I heard about Merenda was that it was too noisy,” Millette said. “You want a little buzz, but we can certainly do something to limit the problem.”
Mike and his management team regard their venture as a cooperative one: 900 Wall will be an employee-owned restaurant. “We will give profit-sharing to as many people as can help us to succeed,” Millette said. “If we profit, they profit. We will keep an open book financially, sharing monthly reports from our financial people with our whole staff.”
And he said 80% of the new staff at 900 Wall will be former employees of Merenda and Deep.
“Any of us could go and get a job at a corporate restaurant,” said Marcus Egge. “But we would miss the pride of working together. We want to be in Bend and to make this thing work. And we’re going to make it even better than it was before.”
“It’s important we make ourselves our own entity,” said Cliff Eslinger, who was former chef-owner Jody Denton’s right-hand man for five years before running the Deep kitchen during its 1½-year lifespan. “The menu will still be Mediterranean-influenced but it will be more wide-ranging. I like Spanish food quite a bit, for instance.”
Eslinger said he will be a working chef who will be seen in 900 Wall’s kitchen five or six nights a week. But he said new recipes would be tested on staff at monthly “family dinners” for employees.
Katie Black and Eric Adams have already been training and retraining restaurant staff. “We are emphasizing that everybody who comes into our restaurant is a guest in our own home,” Katie said. “This is our house, and we want them to be welcome.”
“We’re here to be a part of Bend,” said Mike Millette, who has lived in Bend for 11 years and is the father of three young daughters, the youngest not yet three weeks old.
“People ask us: Why? Why are we doing this (reopening the restaurant), when we could go to work for a salary elsewhere? The reason is because here, our success is in our own hands.
“We are committed to this community. We are anchored in downtown. And we plan on being here for a long time.”