As the designer and owner of Wasabi Bistro in Spokane, Wash., Joshua Hissong wears many hats while enjoying the creative freedom of overseeing his own project.
Hissong, principal of Hurtado-Hissong Design Group, has a long history in the restaurant business. He owns a second restaurant, Ginger Asian Bistro and Sushi Bar, also in Spokane, and began designing professionally six years ago. In 2010, he and his business partner, Armando Hurtado, opened HDG after collaborating on numerous projects while working for other companies.
Wasabi’s 3,200-square-foot space began as a short-lived restaurant that opened and closed within six months. When the proprietors vacated, they left all of their kitchen equipment behind, “the largest part and expense of building a restaurant,” says Hissong. This offered the perfect opportunity to purchase the building and start from scratch.
When designing a restaurant, Hissong always sees the dining room as a blank canvas. “You tear out everything and start over,” he says. “With this space, it was really easy. I walked in and visualized where everything could go, and we made it happen. It took about three months to build out. We replaced a lot of the equipment, traded out what we didn’t need to utilize in the kitchen and lounge, and overhauled the dining room. Because we weren’t doing a change-of-use permit, we had a lot of leeway with just pulling a demolition permit.”
Upon entering Wasabi, customers are greeted by a sushi bar made from a Silestone countertop from Cosentino; to its right is a bank of bench seating, and on the other side, more tables and bench seating that create a quiet dining area. The combination of bright lighting, dark oak and a bold green color scheme create a vibrant ambiance that was designed specifically to capture the attention of passers-by. Because the face of the building is glass, color and spotlighting were key to making Wasabi Asian Bistro visible not only to foot traffic, but also to commuters and area college students.
The Silestone sushi bar is Wasabi’s true centerpiece: a 21-foot by 7-foot by 19-inch, three-piece structure that Hissong estimates weighs 900 pounds. The decision to use Silestone was two-fold. “It’s an easy product to clean, using dish soap and water,” he says. “Also, Anna Bair, our rep in Spokane, is amazing. She’s been very helpful throughout our growth and is there whenever we need her. She’s a big part of why we’re using the product. That, and no one else offers such cool colors.”
Concept Home Furniture in Spokane provided the unique chairs at the bar, which are adjustable to 24 or 30 inches. “There are a lot of issues when you’re dealing with a sushi bar and counter seating,” says Hissong. “It’s very difficult to find furnishings that will work for the different heights of the tables. These chairs raise and lower. We have a local guy who is 6-foot-10 who comes in all the time, and he’s able to sit at the sushi bar because he can lower the chair so much.”
HDG called on Acadie Woodworks and its owner, Jonathan Gay, for Wasabi’s furnishings. “Acadie is a young, local, woodworking company and they custom-build all of our tables,” says Hissong. “We never have any pre-manufactured wood in the buildings. Building your own table ends up being maybe 10 percent more than buying from a restaurant supply chain or online, but you get to actually match the wood grain, stain and finish to the rest of your space.”
The Wasabi tables feature a Xanadu laminate—a striped, dark, bamboo-looking laminate that Hissong describes as “pretty much indestructible.” Acadie Woodworks also built the dark oak light fixtures over the bar and the cabinets behind it.
“Having no one tell me ‘no’ to any ideas was a lot of fun. With this project, I could do whatever I wanted," says Joshua Hissong, principal with HDG and owner of the Wasabi Bistro.
Overall, says Hissong, the building is simple and to the point. The restaurant seats 76 diners in its one room, with 14 at the bar. The kitchen and wine storage area are housed behind crushed velvet curtains at the back of the dining area. The two dining sections are separated by a visual barrier: black-and-white, double-sided images of the restaurant, hung via aircraft cable between thick, acrylic Lexan plastic sheets.
The building that houses Wasabi is fairly new, which meant that it was mostly up to environmental standards. HDG replaced the duct system, which was costly but now yields monthly energy savings averaging $800 a month. The concrete floors were already in place and needed only cleaning, staining and refinishing. Best of all, he says, “Having no one tell me ‘no’ to any ideas was a lot of fun. With this project, I could do whatever I wanted.”
To add to Wasabi’s sustainability goals, HDG put extra glazing on all the glass, removed the dropped ceiling and foamed the interior with spray foam for insulation. The 88 light bulbs were replaced, going from 50 watts to 5 watts.
“We’re starting to push light fixture replacements,” says Hissong. “Some of the states—and Washington is one of them—are pushing to where you can only spec LED in certain projects, which is nice. It was tough in the beginning because manufacturers saw the monopoly they could create. Six or 8-watt light bulbs that were $60 each a year and a half ago are down to $11 dollars now. I think people’s refusal to pay such an exorbitant amount of money has pushed the manufacturers into lowering their prices.”
With full creative control, Hissong had latitude to be more daring with colors and textures. The result is something of a departure for Spokane, a smaller market with a population of around 380,000. “The second that people walk in the door, they immediately tell us that they feel they’re in Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco,” says Hissong. “We hear that almost daily, and that was the goal: give them great food, great service and take them away for a little while.”
10208 North Division Street
Hurtado-Hissong Design Group
107 S. Howard Avenue
Spokane, WA 99201