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Gård Public House keeps it local, serves regionally

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | October 18, 2023 1:30 AM

ROYAL CITY — Everybody loves a “best-kept secret,” a place they can introduce their friends to that hasn’t been discovered yet by the public at large. And Royal City boasts just such a gem: Gård Public House.

“We had people say ‘We love Gård; we don't want to tell anybody about it because we love keeping it to ourselves,” said Josh Lawrence, who owns Gård with his wife, Lisa.

Gård Public House, located smack in the middle of downtown Royal City, seats 40-45 people inside, and about half that many at outdoor tables in good weather. It may look from the outside like a little hole-in-the-wall eatery, but the quality of its offerings belies its size. It serves lunch and dinner selections centered around locally sourced ingredients, as well as a lengthy selection of Gård wines. Its kitchen is the domain of Head Chef Chris Selfridge, who grew up in Moses Lake and trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland. The menu leans heavily on the area’s agricultural base; local sources include Tonnemaker Hill Farm, Pure Country Pork, Big Sage Organics, Griggs Apiary and Cascadia Organic Flour, according to its website.

The public house is an outgrowth of Gård Vintners, also owned by the Lawrences. (The name means “garden” in several Scandinavian languages.) The public house officially opened in May 2021.

“We happened into the restaurant market a little bit unplanned,” Lisa said. “This great building came available, and we always thought we needed a local tasting room. And we thought, ‘Is Royal City ready? Are we ready?’ But the space was just perfect. And then the more we thought about it, the more we thought, why don’t we just do a restaurant? We've learned from our other locations (that) people are really seeking the experience. So being able to add food and creating more of a food and wine experience is a lot better value.”

The public house draws many of its regular customers from a radius of about a 45-minute drive, Josh said. That takes in Moses Lake, Desert Aire, Quincy and Ephrata, as well as local residents.

“There's many times we walk in here on a Saturday, or even on a Monday at lunch, and we only recognize 10% or 20% of the people.”

“We get a lot of reviews, people (say that) when they come to a Gorge concert, it's part of their trip out here. We have people that drive from Seattle to Spokane, and they'll say ‘Now it's part of my route. When I go that way, I kind of detour off and come to the Public House.”

Travelers who want to do more than drop by also have an option. Over the summer, the Lawrences converted the upstairs of the building to six guest rooms for short- or long-term rental. In a town with no other lodging available, it’s been a welcome addition, Lisa said.

“It's been really successful,” she said. “We have people that come to work in the area that stay. We get concert-goers, we get people who just want to come to the restaurant and not have to drive home. We have a lot of locals who, instead of hosting people at their own home, prefer them to come stay here.”

“We get a lot of people coming over here that are avid hunters,” Josh said. “We get people coming over here to bird watch, People come in with a lot of comments that say ‘Boy, this would do well in Seattle.’”

That doesn’t mean the Lawrences are going to shift their focus to the big city, though, Josh added.

“I think what the people telling us that this would do well in Seattle does for us, it's reaffirmation that what we're doing is right ... And I do believe that this business model can work in other locations fairly easily. I think what we're doing is, we're proving it can work in rural America.”

Joel Martin may be reached via email at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com.

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COURTESY PHOTO/GARD VINTNERS

A worker pours Cabernet Franc grapes into a bin at Gård Vintners’ Solaksen Vineyard.

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COURTESY PHOTO/WILLIAM MUNOZ PHOTOGRAPHY

Josh Lawrence, right, speaks to visitors at Gård Vintners’ vineyard tour in August.