Spokane Journal of Business

Restaurant designer takes clients from notion to opening

Working for a longtime equipment supplier here, he does 75 spaces a year

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Restaurant designer takes clients from notion to opening
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Joshua Hissong, a designer for Spokane Restaurant Equipment, has designed a host of restaurant interiors here, including Ginger Asian Bistro, on the South Hill, pictured here.

Joshua Hissong's handiwork is evident at some of Spokane's most well-known restaurants, but it's not the food.

Hissong, an in-house designer at Spokane Restaurant Equipment, does layout, consulting, and interior design for all types of eateries, from drive-through coffee stands to full-service restaurants. His design work often includes every aspect of a restaurant space from the kitchen to the dining area to the restrooms.

Among the restaurants he's had a hand in designing are Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar, the Flying Goat, Taste Cafe & Gourmet to Go, Ginger Asian Bistro, Waddell's Pub & Grille, Scratch, and Vintages@611. He also was involved in the recently completed remodel of the North Division Tomato Street, and the new frozen yogurt shop Froyo Earth, and also currently is working on the new Spokane location of The White House Grill, called The West Wing, and another new South Hill restaurant called Savory.

Hissong says that when a client comes to Spokane Restaurant Equipment, a longtime supplier of restaurant equipment here, for assistance in designing a restaurant space, he is the first person they talk to.

"I will meet with the client and talk about their vision for the place before I even see it," he says. "I will give them suggestions for the design, but let the owner pick it all out."

Hissong says it usually takes him about two days to draw a proposed layout for the space, including where to place the kitchen equipment to optimize space and work flow. He says he then takes his concept to the client to make any necessary changes to the basic plan. Next, Hissong selects lighting, colors, fabrics, paints, and finishes based on the client's desires.

"My favorite projects to work on are ones when the owners have as much passion about it as I do for food, wine, and design," he says.

Jane Heber, co-owner of Taste Cafe & Gourmet to Go, located at 180 S. Howard, says Hissong helped her capture the vision she had for the interior of her downtown restaurant.

"He was absolutely phenomenal. His ideas were so energetic, and we couldn't have done it without him," Heber says.

She says she wanted to leave as much of the space's brick walls exposed as possible, and Hissong helped her design a space centered on that feature. She says he also suggested hanging spotlights in the restaurant's kitchen rather than track lighting, and picked out everything for the interior except for the chairs she picked out.

Throughout the construction phase, Hissong says he is on the site almost every day.

"Every time you step into a space you see something different when it is under construction. A lot of restaurants are built as you go," he says. "This is what creates the perfect space."

Hissong says he works on 75 to 100 projects a year. Of those, about 50 are freestanding, full-service restaurants, he says.

As a consultant, Hissong also assists restaurateurs in obtaining regulatory approval of licenses from the Washington Department of Health and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, he says.

Hissong, who grew up in the Coeur d'Alene area, moved back to the Inland Northwest from California about 10 years ago and has been with Spokane Restaurant Equipment for about six years, he says. He attended the University of California Santa Barbara, where he studied business economics, and then got into the restaurant industry there, waiting tables and working as a manager at several eateries in Southern California after leaving an unsatisfactory desk job at a retirement home there, he says. That led to him helping design a new location for a restaurant he worked for in Pasadena, Calif., called Bona Corsos, he says.

"Restaurants were so exciting, and I never wanted to be sitting at a desk," he says. "I knew that I wanted to do something in the restaurant industry for the rest of my life, and designing restaurants is the perfect marriage of office work and being creative."

Shortly after he moved to Spokane, Hissong says he was asked by Ron Wells, owner of Wells & Co. here, to help design a restaurant space for a potential tenant in one of the company's properties, the Morgan Building, at 315 W. Riverside. He says that space still is for lease.

During that time Hissong says he met Mike Schneider, owner of Spokane Restaurant Equipment, who saw his work and wanted Hissong to work for his company.

Hissong, who had no formal training in using computer design software, went to PacifCAD Inc. here to learn how to use the 3-D design software program AutoCAD after being hired by Schneider, he says.

The first restaurant he designed through Spokane Restaurant Equipment was Wagner's Hofbrau in Coeur d'Alene, he says.

Part of Hissong's position at Spokane Restaurant Equipment also is to consult with clients on matters such as choosing a building contractor and food and alcohol vendors, and hiring and training employees, he says.

"I've done this over 200 times now, so I can walk them through every step of starting a restaurant," he says.

He says Spokane Restaurant Equipment charges customers for his time, in addition to selling them restaurant equipment and supplies, but he contends the fees for the design service are significantly less than what an outside design or architect would charge.

Hissong says he always has been interested in design, and during his teen years would redecorate his room to have something to do during lengthy punishments. He also credits his talents to his father, and says his dad built several vacation cabins for the family during his childhood.

He says he is constantly searching for design inspiration from interesting spaces, architectural magazines, and Web sites that sell fixtures and finishes.

Hissong also recently put up for sale a 1930s Cape Cod-style home near Manito Park after designing and carrying out a complete renovation while viewers watched on the Do-It-Yourself cable network show Renovation Realities. After purchasing the home last fall, he says he contacted a producer at HGTV, the sister station of the DIY Network, to see if the network would be interested in filming the renovation, and says he heard back almost immediately that it was.

He has renovated four other houses in the area, he says.

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