Thistle Restaurant & Bar
What They Feed:
Oregon provincial – inspired by the farmers and producers in the heart of the Willamette Valley
Seeders & Feeders They Support:
Vibrant Valley Farm, Even Pull Farm, Oak Hill Organics, MCK Ranch, Worden Hill Farm, North Valley Farm, Valley Creek Farm, Steven’s Farm
Thistle Restaurant in McMinnville is one built on hard work, quality and community. Emily Howard and Eric Bechard met in Portland 2005 and a few years later moved to Seattle for a new adventure. They quickly learned that they missed Oregon and considered moving back, somewhere a bit off the beaten path like Hood River, Astoria or the Willamette Valley. On visiting Emily’s parents and hometown of McMinnville, they discovered a vacant restaurant space in what was once a hotel, built in the 1880s. Building a restaurant and making move to the Willamette Valley would also allow them to be closer to small family agriculture. They went for it and spent the next few months making the trip from Seattle to McMinnville to build out the space. Along with the help of friends, they did the entire construction remodel themselves. Jason Fritz, an old friend from when they worked at Alberta St Oyster Bar in Portland, was a big asset. Furniture and trinkets they had begun to collect in Seattle became a part of the space, right down to the $7.99 chairs from Goodwill.
At 2 pm on July 7, 2009 the gas turned on and Thistle opened for dinner service that night. Eric was on the stoves and Emily took care of service and dishes. The restaurant was busy out of the gate and after six months they were “in the black”. They closed and took a one month hiatus for “a study of small spaces” which involved drinking in small bars in NYC.
When they returned, they opened the bar is the space next to Thistle and Patrick Bruce, another industry friend from Portland, made the move to McMinnville to help with that. Fritz, who had helped with the build out, also joined the team.
From the beginning, Thistle has been committed to sourcing from the farms that surround them. Each night, the chalkboard menu is made up of what’s available right then, also listing the farmers and producers that have provided the ingredients. Sourcing everything so locally is challenging, but rewarding; they now have long standing relationships with many of their suppliers, while new ones come right to the door.
The experience at Thistle is intimate and genuine. Emily serves the 22 seat dining room, Patrick is behind the bar, while Fritz and one cook take care of the food. Eric is now primarily at their new restaurant in Astoria called Albatross, but still plays the chef role at Thistle, with Fritz as chef de cuisine.
“So we were kind of naive” – Emily, on their business plan when first opening Thistle