Boots Bakery & Lounge in Spokane, Washington, has extremely loyal customers for two main reasons: It’s the best place to get vegan food in Spokane, and it’s very, very good. Add to that creative surroundings and friendly staff, and it’s no wonder some Spokanites eat here multiple times per week.
On my recent weekend trip to eastern Washington, I mostly ate food from Boots: a dinner and a lunch, plus scones I bought for breakfast the next day. Although one scone proved too tempting and didn’t last till morning – it wound up being a midnight snack.
The restaurant is deep and narrow, with long wooden tables, booths made from old doors, a wood plank floor, high ceiling and an elegant old bar. Murals adorn the exposed brick walls.
While the name sounds like just a bakery, Boots sells a wide variety of salads and casseroles. The best deal is the trio. You pick three items out of the glass case, with the option of having your meal heated up. On my first visit, I got the spicy corn chipotle pasta, made with fusilli, corn, and creamy sauce; crazy spicy slaw, which features red cabbage, grated carrots and generous hunks of jalapeno; and a big wedge of enchilada pie. The pie alternates layers of tortillas, corn, black beans, veg taco meat and enchilada sauce, and is topped with guacamole. Baked goods include such delicacies as fig coffee cake and banana maple walnut coffee cake. Everything is vegan, except for a regular milk option at the coffee bar.
The Story Behind Boots
Of course I couldn’t help but wonder about the origin of such a fabulous vegan hotspot in Spokane. So Jordan, the handsome and friendly young server on duty, put me in touch with owner Alison Collins. With the help of her husband, Arden, they’ve made Boots an important part of Spokane’s alternative community. Here’s the Q&A we did when she found a moment to spare between creating food, running a business and caring for her family.
RFT: How long have you lived in Spokane?
Alison Collins: Since about 1983. I grew up everywhere because my dad was military and my mom is from England.
RFT: What is the vegan scene like in Spokane? Is it changing?
Alison Collins: I think the vegan scene in Spokane is getting better every day. It seems that more and more restaurants are offering at least one vegan option and beginning to educate themselves on what exactly vegan means (tomato soup with cream in it is not vegan, etc.). There are several restaurants that have separate vegan menus and/or specify which dishes can be vegan.
RFT: How did you decide to open a vegan business in Spokane?
Alison Collins: I had been vegan for many years and had been working (bartending) at Mizuna for about 8 years and also baking for them (vegan carrot cake), which is still on their menu. My (side) baking business kept getting bigger and bigger. I had a friend who owned the building we are in and he said, c’mon, open a bakery. I hemmed and hawed. A few more friends offered encouragement and dollars (we have no bank loans, just personal loans with friends) and I hemmed and hawed and then I fell for it! I was never worried that the vegan aspect of it would work- it has been my experience that if you make vegan food and baked goods that don’t taste “stereotypically vegan,” people will love them.
RFT: When did you open Boots?
Alison Collins: This June will be two years! So, 2012 right?
RFT: What has the response been?
Alison Collins: The response has been crazy good! We feel very fortunate to have such a wonderful customer (we call them friends because after they come in once, they are) base. Truly, all of our friends are such nice and wonderful people. We are very into being a big part of our community so we donate to all good things and we also encourage people to use our space as they see fit… sitting for hours and studying is fine with us (not a standard business model). We also feel that when you own a business, you have a “business” voice that you have an obligation to use when important issues come up that need support (same sex marriage, GMOs, etc).
RFT: What dishes/treats are most popular?
Alison Collins: We make whatever we feel like day today, with no set menus or dishes per se. The things we always have are our Power Greens, the Mac & Cheese, and the Crazy Spicy Slaw. We also have Boozy Brownies all the time. Oh, and the Pumpkin Waffles! These things are very popular and that is why we have them. That being said, some of the other things we make, like Spicy Broccoli Rice Sticks, are crazy popular too. And Enchilada Pie, and… you see, it would be very easy to just have a set menu, but that would drive me insane. Also, the people who eat with us 4-5 times a week would be bored.
RFT: Who are your customers?
Alison Collins: Everyone from college students to lawyers to artists to activists to tourists… like I said above, they are all lovely. It is really hard to convey the sentiment I feel about our friends. I feel like it is different than just having customers. We have met so many wonderful people and we are blessed to have so many of them come so often.
RFT: Do you get many tourists and visitors from out of town?
Alison Collins: I feel like we have seen a definite upswing in tourists. I think as more people search for vegan or gluten-free when they are in from out of town, the more we see. We are also located right by the convention center so that brings us some out of town folk.
RFT: Tell me a little about the artwork and murals on your walls.
Alison Collins: Before we opened, we put it out there that we were looking for local “artists” (anyone, not just professional artists)- to create booth spaces. There were no parameters or rules, anything would be considered. I feel like we got an amazing eclectic assortment of fun art!
RFT: What other Spokane restaurants do you recommend?
Alison Collins: I like Gordy’s Sichuan Cafe, Stella’s Cafe (crazy good Tofu Ban Mi Sandwich), and Mizuna (separate veg menu).
RFT: What else should I know about you, Spokane and Boots?
Alison Collins: We are jazzed that you came in and liked it! What I hope is that you were made to feel welcome and cared for. That is most important to me. Like I said, despite my “older age,” I have a husband who is so great and helps out so much and two little girls (ages 7 and 10), and truly, the very best staff in town. Every single one of them has qualities I find admirable in a person. – Teresa Bergen, RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor