“A great restaurant is one that just makes you feel like you're not sure whether you went out or you came home and confuses you. If it can do both of those things at the same time, you're hooked.”
Image Courtesy of Kate Hansen
If you are a Spokane foodie, you are well-versed with the Hansen empire, which is slated by next year to include 7, yes, 7 restaurants (adding a much-anticipated French-inspired Brasserie in the newly remodeled Ridpath and a gin bar called Papa’s Lover). If you’ve frequented these establishments, you’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from the warm, welcoming feel of each of these restaurants.
Little do most patrons know, however, how integral a role that the other half of the Hansen team is, that is, unless you’ve spent some quality time with this quality couple. It is never more apparent than when talking to Jeremy Hansen, the executive chef behind their evolving brand, who beams broadly when talking about the many talents of his incredible wife and business partner.
Kate Hansen is in one word, a dynamo. She leads the financial side of the business, restaurant design, wine buying, planning events, catering and examining and improving current systems - as she says, “whatever it takes to get the job done.” When she executes a vision, she is constantly tweaking, studying, learning and perfecting every element of its design to ensure success. One of her greatest skills is her nose for talent. “I can recognize the skill and passion in others and support them as much as possible in their own journey,” she says. This ability has helped to develop a team that feels more like family than employees.
Image courtesy of Kate Hansen
She is often the first person to make contact with diners when she is in the restaurant, taking phone calls and greeting guests, and behind the scenes polishing systems to perfection, and filling in wherever she is needed. From the kitchen design and restaurant management at Deng Chu (a pop-up restaurant they put on as a special event at the Chinese Lantern Festival featuring food from the regions of China) to Inland Northwest Chef’s Week and organizing over a dozen chefs from around the Inland Northwest and beyond to create a collaborative series of events culminating with a phenomenal dinner with each team responsible for one course, to opening Inland Pacific Kitchen this year, a beacon of modern cuisine in a typically conservative food environment in Spokane, there is little she hasn’t had her hand in.
When Jeremy develops an idea, she is the force to be reckoned with in making it happen, and smoothing any rough edges. Early in their careers, it became evident to the couple that they needed their own establishment to maintain complete creative and operational control. When a space became available in the Liberty Building, the pieces fell into place rapidly, and now that thriving business is in its 10th year - Sante - a French-inspired restaurant specializing in house-made charcuterie. She will find a way to passionately execute that vision and be the support needed to ensure that the creative energy and systems can work in harmony. When a customer is needing attention, she finds just the right words to smooth a situation over and ensure their needs are met. Her professional customer service approach lends a sophisticated polish to the front of house that is enviable in our city.
Image courtesy of Kate Hansen
They met in the same environment that their life now mirrors - in a kitchen. “I met Jeremy at the Mustard Seed. He was the kitchen manager of the downtown location and helped open up other locations including the Northtown Mall location. At this time we were just co-workers. I remember a funny story about our first encounter. I asked him for extra chicken teriyaki because I wanted to show off to some friends I was serving and he glared at me. How young and unprofessional he must have thought I was! It wasn’t until after he had moved on to working at Fugazzi and the Cavalino Lounge (now the Post Street Ale House) that we realized we had something special between us. I was blown away at his passion for life and learning, he had so many talents and interests especially when it came to the world of food. I encouraged him to act on his idea to move to Portland for culinary school, then moved to Portland a year later, then supported him as his journey took him to New York, and then back to Spokane to be with his daughter while I finished college in Portland. The motto of the early years of our relationship was “sacrifice” which was really hard at times living in different states. It ultimately created an amazing foundation for where we are now.”
Their sweet relationship with yin and yang personalities, with Jeremy as the outspoken and direct executive chef with an incredible talent with combining exploratory flavors and classic technique, and Kate as the refined and gentle front-of-house and business manager who has an eye for detail and the organization of the restaurant machine, represents the marriage of their strengths to create such dynamism in the establishments they run.
Image Courtesy of Kate Hansen
The couple’s heart for the community and for those in need is so strong, and they work deftly as a team to maintain their ethical perspectives through actions, not just words. While Jeremy incredibly took a month away from the Spokane-based restaurants he and Kate own to serve the embattled people of Puerto Rico, the ship remained impressively upright thanks to her deft supervision and egalitarian business acumen. Upon his return, he posted a slew of social media praises for his staff and kitchens for maintaining his standards while he worked to serve the hard-working people of Puerto Rico. This result was not by accident, but through careful planning and staff development. As she explains, “We would have not been able to open so many businesses in this short amount of time without being able to place trust in our team to get the job done.” Her team at Sante, Inland Pacific Kitchen, Hogwash Whiskey Den, Common Crumb and Biscuit Wizard continued to put out high-quality, consistent, beautiful work (I went to several of them during that month, and was delighted to see the operation running so smoothly) despite his absence. That’s every small business owner’s goal.
Her continued leadership in the Sante Restaurant Group has produced some amazing results, and the longevity of these businesses reflects that skill. When Kate reflected on her greatest accomplishment in her career thus far, she said, “I am excited about this year being that it’s our tenth year in operation at Sante. Oh the nostalgia! So many events, challenges, opportunities that I’m proud to have seen to fruition. I would also say that I’m finally at a point to where I can put people in place to take on some of the routine, daily tasks that I do so that I can step into a different role as a spokesperson and taking on new projects to grow our companies. I feel lucky to have some core people that have stayed with us and continue to grow with us.”
The holidays wouldn’t be complete without the legendary celebratory meals that this couple is known for preparing, and this year’s second-annual offering at Inland Pacific Kitchen looks to be a show-stopper, as expected. Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend this event, and it was truly the most fantastic meal I’ve had in Spokane to date. My only hope this year is that they can top themselves! If this year’s menu is anything like the last, which was their inaugural meal, it is sure to be spectacular and full of surprises. The offerings highlight top-shelf champagnes, the highest-quality caviar, sea creatures and spices. The caviar tasting begins the carefully orchestrated meal, and follows with tastings of eel, oysters, scallops and prawns, and spice-driven items (a nod to their spice menu, which was inspired by a treasured family member battling cancer). Find more information about this unforgettable event at ipkspokane.com.
A course from last year's NYE dinner at Inland Pacific Kitchen
When it comes to her project, Common Crumb, she gets quite sentimental, as baking inspired her love of cooking. “I am actually just a home baker. As a child I enjoyed baking with my Mother, Grandmother, and Aunt, especially around the holidays. This is something I look forward to every year: the messy kitchen, the multi-tasking of projects, the loud conversations of my family, and magically putting together delicious containers of cookies, fudge, and other treats. I don’t do any baking at Common Crumb, it’s actually quite comical how many people think I do. “ She relies on the technical strength of pastry chef Lynette Pflueger to create the variety of offerings in her little corner of Saranac Commons. This operation delivers to over 20 wholesale partners daily, and the challenges she overcomes are myriad. In the Inland Northwest, the resources available to a specialty baker are not as diverse, so sourcing ingredients and equipment can be a problem. It is, however, one that she solves daily and makes sure those deliveries arrive on time, even in the snow and ice to the delight of her customers. As many wonderful ventures are, it was born out of necessity. “We opened the bakery because our baking program grew to be too big for Sante, so we needed to expand and an opportunity came up in the Saranac Commons that we couldn’t turn down. Our executive pastry chef, Lynette Pflueger, is a complete badass and runs circles around Jeremy and me with how much she does in a day. “
Kate is a complex individual who is still searching for her ever-evolving purpose, and as anyone who truly seeks excellence feels, she continues searching for inspiration. She says, “I feel like I am still finding out what my greatest passion is. Perhaps it will be a culmination of my experience thus far. “
Spokane, and the Sante Restaurant Group, are very lucky to have her.