Over the past four decades, Spokane has welcomed, and said its goodbyes, to dozens, if not hundreds, of restaurants. But during that time, there has been one locally owned, longstanding restaurant group that has stood the test of time—Spokane’s Landmark Restaurant Group. The company behind the Onion Taphouse and Grills and Franks Restaurants has been catering to locals and visitors alike since 1978, and they’re stronger and more successful than ever.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ken Belisle, president and co-owner of Landmark Restaurant Group, to find out more about how these restaurants came to be … and where they see the future of these “landmark” restaurants.
Q. When did each of the restaurants open their doors to Spokane?
A. The first Onion menu actually debuted at 302 W. Riverside in 1975, and that is when the old sign was changed from the Union to the Onion. Founder Larry Brown didn’t have the money to change the sign at the time when the painter recommended changing the U to an O, and the Onion brand was created. In 1978, Larry got a large loan from US Bank and truly did a beautiful remodel. That is when the Onion everyone knows today was born. In 2018 we celebrate our 40th year in business, but the original 1975 Onion menu still hangs in the restaurant today as a reminder of our humble tavern roots.
A lost ground lease in Seattle was Spokane’s gain, and Frank’s Diner railcar came to 1516 W. Second Ave. in the fall of 1991. This original beautiful 1906 railcar was actually the private car for the president of that time and is as beautiful today as when it was first built.
North Division Onion Taphouse Built in 1982 by Bargreen Ellington, this beautiful taphouse has been a north side hangout for large parties and family gatherings for 36 years. In 2015, the new Area 51 lounge became an instant north side favorite.
After six months, we finally found a transport route to bring this 80-foot, 100-ton railcar over from the coast. It then spent two years in a warehouse hanger being restored to its beautiful original condition. After $1 million and thousands of man hours, we were then ready to set it in its new home in North Spokane. With the help of two huge cranes and a massive semi haul with police escort ,our beautifully restored railcar was moved to its final home, and [Frank’s Diner] opened in 2005 on Newport Highway.
Q. How does it feel to reach this milestone of 40 years in business?
A. We recognize the enormous obligation to keep finding ways to exceed our guests’ expectations. We love Spokane and its people. Our managers and crew are family. Our love of great craft food and beverage, and the honor it is to share with our friends and neighbors, has never been more important than today. We know time is valuable, and when you can get away for a meal, the experience truly has to be wonderful. Our guests’ desire for craft, locally sourced food and beverage prepared fresh when they order is our passion.
Q. How do you continue to keep your guests happy and coming back for more?
A. Our chefs at Franks Diners and the Onion Taphouse and Grills take full advantage of all the fresh, natural local and sustainable products in the Northwest. Ninety percent of our products come from within a 300-mile radius. This much fresh rotating perishable product is a lot to manage, but we can tell the difference. [And] with the explosion of local craft breweries, it seemed only natural for the Onion to take advantage of all the great craft local products, and Area 51 Taphouse at the Onion was born. To accommodate the enormous amount of rotating inventory a 51-tap facility would require, and to deliver it adhering to the high standards that have made the Onion so successful for 40 years, an extensive remodel was mandatory at both Onion locations.
Q. Landmark Restaurants lives up to its name by being Spokane’s longest running locally owned and operated full-service restaurant company. After 40 years, how have you managed to keep the quality up all these years?
A. Our company is blessed to have so many great leaders. These wonderful passionate people bring stability, confidence and trustworthiness to our management organization. We are a team consisting of 26 managers and crew leaders and over 210 employees at Landmark. It’s a responsibility we take seriously. We truly value that so many trust us as their employer of choice. For 40 years our mission has been to exceed our employees’ expectations. We know our crew will then exceed our guests’ expectations and company success is automatic. Taking great care of our employees is not only the right thing to do, but its a sound business philosophy
Ken and has crew view their 40th year in business as just the beginning. The entire team continues to carry the banner of Landmark’s mission. To bring an honest genuine food experience to their friends, family and neighbors who dine with them each day.
The Onion Grill and Taphouse
North Side - 7522 N. Division St.
Downtown - 302 W. Riverside Ave.
North Side - 10929 N. Newport Hwy
Downtown 1516 W. Second Ave.