“Not often does a restaurant have a chance after 10 years to reinvent itself.”
Such were the words of Sarah Morton-Erasmus, co-owner of Henni’s Kitchen and Bar. In late April, the restaurant, located at 120 E Jewett Boulevard downtown White Salmon, will be back open for business following months of uncertainty. This time, Sarah and her husband Christiaan have made the decision to revamp the menu and the flow of the restaurant to accommodate a slower, more purposeful dining experience.
“We want to be more like a bistro,” Sarah said, with a focus on serving “excellent quality food on each plate.”
The restaurant, Sarah said, “won’t be so server-heavy” and will discard the idea of a turn-and-burn dining experience, instead opting to strive for a perfect experience for patrons.
In preparation of the upcoming opening, Sarah and Christiaan have been hard at work over the past couple of months experimenting with dishes, deep-cleaning the kitchen and dining room, and, with the help of relatives, installing a wall to separate customers of Sarah and Christiaan’s pizza takeout spot “Pizza Leona” from patrons of Henni’s.
Pizza Leona, opened last year by Sarah and Christiaan in an effort to offset the loss of business due to the shuttering of indoor dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will stay open alongside Henni’s, the couple told Columbia Gorge News.
“Pizza Leona kept the lights on,” Christiaan said, and noted that selling to-go "Chef's boxes" out of Henni’s through the pandemic “really kept up our morale.”
“We were insanely lucky,” Sarah said. Around this time last year “we were looking around at what other jobs to do. We were in such limbo.”
To their great relief, the property manager and the “restaurant’s godfather”, Mark Watterson, has been beyond supportive of their efforts to hit the ground running. With some shuffling around last year, Watterson gave Sarah and Christiaan the opportunity to move their pizza ovens to open up Pizza Leone. Watterson also invested in an expanded outdoor dining area for Henni’s, by hiring an architect and contractors to construct a canopy and purchasing outdoor amenities.
The outdoor dining room will add 24 seats, as well as gas heaters and sky lights to the restaurant.
“It makes a big difference when someone is invested in your success,” Sarah said.
While the international flavors will continue to premiere on the menu, much as they have over the 11 years the couple has owned Henni’s, they are seeking healthy, sustainable, and hearty meals.
“Right now the whole thing is sustainable,” Christiaan said. “We want to be more conscientious about where we are sourcing out next dish, and our fish.”
Christiaan said their daughter announcing her intention to explore a vegan lifestyle inspired portions of Henni’s menu.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still love a grilled lamb chop,” said Christiaan. The couple invested in a new charcoal grill, because, in Christiaan’s words, “the main thing we want to do is piri-piri chicken.”
The restaurant will continue to provide a craft cocktail program, Sarah said.
As the restaurant’s improvements kick up the pace and things start picking up for reopening, Sarah and Christiaan said they expect Henni’s to be open four days a week at the beginning. While they continue to man the counters at Pizza Leona and Arrowleaf, an artist collective located down the street which Sarah helps maintain, the couple are looking for extra hands to help out. Henni’s is looking to hire a bartender, and a prep cook. The couple is also seeking a part-time worker, perhaps a high-schooler, to man the counters of Pizza Leona.
Over the past month, the fact that the restaurant is about to open again has really set in for Sarah and Christiaan.
“We’ve been all giddy,” Sarah said. “I feel a sense of freedom for sure. It’s a little bit like ‘oh boy. Here we go.’”