The boy who liked to eat has turned into a man who seems to have a magical touch when it comes to envisioning unique foods to serve at his restaurants scattered across Spokane County and North Idaho.
Last month chef Adam Hegsted, 38, opened his latest creation, The Honey Eatery and Social Club, at 317 E. Sherman Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. The restaurant features modern comfort foods made with local products, including honey. It’s open during the day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the social club downstairs, featuring small plates and craft cocktails, is open from 4 p.m. to closing Tuesday through Saturday.
So far the star of the Honey Eatery menu seems to be the honey butter fried chicken, Hegsted said. “That seems like a pretty strong winner,” he said.
Hegsted, a 2016 semifinalist for a James Beard award, traces his love of food to his childhood, when his aunt would take him to a variety of Spokane restaurants.
“I liked to eat,” he said. “That was mainly it. I loved baking with my mom and eating the product.”
He started work as a dishwasher at the Marie Callender’s restaurant in Spokane Valley, where he worked his way up the ladder for four years. “I liked the work,” he said. “ I did pretty much everything there.”
He attended the culinary program at Spokane Community College, then the Art Institute in Seattle. He worked at the Space Needle restaurant before making his way back to Spokane, where he worked at the Ridpath, Black Rock and Cedars in Coeur d’Alene.
He opened Le Piastre in Coeur d’Alene, but had to shut the restaurant down when it proved more than he bargained for. “It was just not busy enough,” he said. “I just didn’t know enough about the business. Owning a place is way different than running a restaurant.”
He worked as a chef at the Coeur d’Alene Casino from 2008 to 2012, where he learned a lot, Hegsted said. Then he tried again, launching the Wandering Table, a multi-course dinner served to a dozen or so people at various locations.
He didn’t stop there. The Wandering Table is now a brick and mortar restaurant at 1242 W. Summit Parkway in Kendall Yards. Hegsted also owns or is a partial owner of the Yards Bruncheon, Gilded Unicorn and IncrediBurger and Eggs in Spokane, Eat Good Café in Liberty Lake, Republic Kitchen and Taphouse in Post Falls and the Farmhouse Kitchen and Silo Bar in Ponderay. He also owns a bakery, Doughlicious, that makes much of the bread for his restaurants.
Each restaurant has a distinct feel and menu all its own. Hegsted said he never planned to start so many.
“Wandering Table is the only one I really wanted to do,” he said. “Opportunity kept coming and I took the opportunities.”
Pete Tobin was one of Hegsted’s instructors at SCC and has worked for him in several of his restaurants. He said he knew back then that the 4.0 student in his culinary classes would be successful.
Innovation is the key to Hegsted’s success, Tobin said. “Adam takes a staple and brings a complexity to it,” he said. “We love our comfort food but we want it to be interesting. It’s rethinking it. That’s what he does really well.”
Listening is Hegsted’s other top skill, he said. “A lot of chefs put their ego forward,” Tobin said. “He listens to people, he listens to his workers. It’s a hard business and you’ve got to love it. He loves it.”
It’s not unusual for Hegsted to spend months refining an idea for a new restaurant. “I have a lot of ideas,” he said. “When I have an idea I’ll sit on it a while, think about it and refine it.”
Once a restaurant launches, Hegsted is very hands on, at least at first.
“When we start a restaurant I usually work the grill,” he said. “I write the recipes and make the menu. After a month or two I hand it over to the chef and the general manager and have them make the decisions.”
Before he opened IncrediBurger and Eggs earlier this year, Hegsted had been mulling a hamburger place for years. The menu is a mix of the classic and the unusual. You can choose the PigMac or go for the Pure Gold, which features truffle-foie gras mayo and chianti jam.
“Any demographic can eat here, whether you like plain food or are a foodie,” he said.
Hegsted has plans to open a second IncrediBurger and Eggs location in Coeur d’Alene but hasn’t picked a spot or a date.
Hegsted demurs when asked if he has a favorite among his restaurants but admits that one does have a special place in his heart.
“Wandering Table is my baby,” he said. “That was the first one, the first idea. I thoroughly enjoy eating at all the restaurants. If I didn’t I would change the menu.”