One of the questions that foodies in our city often ask each other is, "Have you eaten at Ruins?" If the answer is "no" there are almost always two responses. The first is no words, only a gasp followed quickly by a resounding " You have to go!!" Chef Tony Brown is both owner and executive chef of Ruins.
I originally connected with Chef Tony on Instagram last summer and after several attempts throughout the following months to get together we officially got to meet in person at Ruins a couple months back. We sat in a booth and enjoyed a casual conversation about his life and culinary journey to date and what his future plans are on the Spokane food scene. He shared stories of his time as a chef in Chicago, Portland and Seattle. How he also has a passion for painting, drawing, photography, architecture and playing the guitar. Tony Brown is a chef, yes, but he is also most definitely an artist and a creative. The more we talked the more I could tell he has a great appreciation for art whatever form that may come in.
My first experience with any of Chef Tony's work i.e. his food was when I visited Stella's. A friend of mine told me I needed to get their Banh Mi sandwich, so I did and it was love at first bite. Literally. To this day it's still my favorite sandwich in Spokane. Trust me when I say you really DO need it in your life. Back in October I attended a dinner put on by my dear friend Angela of Come.eat.with.me and one of the dishes we had was fried chicken. Simple fried chicken, that was the best I had EVER had. I mentioned to Chef Tony that I didn't know what he did to that chicken and that he must have some kind of magic dust to which he responded with a smile, "I have tricks." He does have tricks, whether it be in the sandwiches they serve for lunch at Ruins, the fried chicken that we enjoyed that night or the special dinner menu he creates and serves for a limited time. Chef Tony opened his first place, Stella's (named after his daughter) in 2012 and then Ruins in 2014 and is now slated to open his third restaurant, Eyvind, this year. One of Chef Tony's life philosophies is "dedicate yourself to a craft, put your head down and do your thing." It's very apparent that he indeed lives by this philosophy and it has sure done well for him. The fact is, Chef Tony is one fascinating person and we're very fortunate to have him as a talented chef in our city but also a member of our local community.
So without further ado....
Meet Chef Tony Brown
:What do you love about Spokane?::
"I love that you can use it as a home base and still have money to travel. Whereas Chicago or New York or LA, you'll pay twice the amount of rent and living expenses, you don't have any money to do anything else. Spokane is an easy city to live in, it's laid back and relaxed."
:: How do you feel about the food scene in Spokane?::
"I always say it's pioneer country here, you can do whatever you want. " I think we're all friends for the most part. I get along with all the chefs in this city, which I think is a little bit rare because of that competitiveness" that can exist.
::Tell us a bit about Stella's and Ruins::
"Stella’s opened in February of 2012. We were in the Broadway spot for 5 years before consolidating. I opened it with my parents while still working at Mizuna. It was supposed to be a little side gig doing prep and menu development, then working at Mizuna at night. It took about 3 months before there was a line out the door and I decided to go “out to pasture” and make sandwiches full time. Ruins will celebrate it's 4 year birthday this coming July. When I found the place it was in "Ruins", that's where the name came from. We once changed our menu and did a different type of Cuisine each week for a year. 52 weeks of a different menu. It was something that wasn't being done so I decided to do it." Ruins just recently wrapped up their Southern menu and rolled out an Italian menu.
::Are there plans for Stella's to be its own space again or will it stay at Ruins?::
"We are keeping our eyes peeled for a new spot for Stella’s. We miss the old format of ordering at the counter and it just doesn't seem to work at the Ruins spot. No leads just yet, but meanwhile, Stella’s sandwiches ARE available at Ruins, same recipes, same sandwiches as before. If a new Stella’s does open it will be much smaller."
::Tell us about the new restaurant, Eyvind, that you'll be opening this year::
"It will be the best versions of food that I know how to make. No theme, it won't be Southern or a Speak easy. Just food. It's going to be a more polished and classic restaurant style than Ruins. It will still be affordable though, I am a proponent of affordable food. Currently there is no opening date, but I’m shooting for this summer. After piecing together a floor plan for the restaurant we uncovered a 1650 sq. ft. usable space in the basement that we are going to open as a bar. So 1800 sq. ft. upstairs for a restaurant/amaro and vermouth bar and the downstairs for a more traditional cocktail/beer/wine bar. The kitchen upstairs will be supplying food for the basement space as well." The name for the new restaurant came to Tony during a visit to an Art exhibit while in LA. It was the name of an artist who was an animator for Disney back in the 50's.
::What is a fun or random fact about you?::
"I contemplated for a very brief moment of going to school to become a mime. I love mimes. I love the art form, silent movement telling a story."
::If you could go anywhere in the world all expenses paid for a month where would you go and why?::
"I'm trying to think of some place that's completely secluded" to which I asked, "oh, you want your own island?" "Yes my own island. I almost never get to just sit and hear lots of stuff. Just sit on a beach and not see anyone." Chef Tony agreed that's he's an introvert so the way he refuels is through time spent alone.
So Chef Tony's creative plans continue march forward and he seems very comfortable in the journey he's on and takes the twists and turns in stride. He had the vision and imagination to make Ruins what it is today, Spokane's iconic little blue restaurant on Monroe St. that is well loved and supported by locals and out of towners alike. We wish him and his team all the best and look forward watching their journey continue to unfold.