The challenges of operating a destination restaurant on East Olive Way are not few. To begin with, parking is a beast. Dinette owner Melissa Nyffeler used to direct customers to a pay lot on Summit, but then that became a p-patch. A community garden is a lovely thing—who could argue otherwise?—but its presence means now Nyffeler is left sending customers to a “sketchy” lot full of broken glass that doubles as a napping spot for transients. “It’s embarrassing,” she said.
“When I moved to the location six years ago,” Nyffeler continued, “Lark, 1200 Bistro [now Chao Bistro], and Dinette—those were the only places you could go for food that was a step above pub food.” Since then, dozens of high-end restaurants have opened on the other side of the Hill, where parking is still dodgy but decidedly less so. Circumstances there are such that people no longer have to walk more than a block or two before stumbling into a nice restaurant.
Over on Olive, however, there is a dearth of retail and dining destinations, not to mention a resident base that skews towards twenty-somethings. Street traffic tends to seek out cheap eats—not entrees that run upwards of $20. La Bête opened up around the corner in the former Chez Gaudy space last year. That has helped some, said Nyffeler. But business isn’t what it should be given Dinette’s high marks among the critics and on customer feedback sites like Yelp. “We have so many happy customers, I feel like it should be busier. And I think the location is the problem. We’re a little too fancy for this part of the Hill.”
The solution: adapt. This week (as first reported on SLOG) Nyffeler rolled out a new lunch program she’s calling Summer Sandwich Bar: a revolving menu that includes five or six sandwiches served on breads from Columbia City Bakery plus sides like kohlrabi slaw and an arugula salad with shaved pecorino. Available in the lounge and on the sidewalk patio, the sandwiches cost between $6.50 and $8.50.
So far so good: Nyfeller sold twice as many sandwiches on Wednesday as she did Tuesday, her first day in the lunch biz. An Italian beefwich with cured and roasted steak from Painted Hills is already a popular item, and a truffled egg salad-wich has also garnered fans. If ‘wiches continue to draw a crowd, Nyffeler said she’ll continue serving lunch in future seasons—possibly in the restaurant’s dining room as well—and may add soup and mini sandwiches to the menu.
And it’s not inconceivable that we’ll be seeing lower priced items—including sandwiches—on Dinette’s dinner menu as well. “I’m seeing how it develops,” said Nyffeler. “I don’t mind changing what I do. I would be happy to appeal more to people in my neighborhood.”
Summer Sandwich Bar at Dinette is open 11:30am to 2:30pm Tuesday through Saturday. Attention biscuit lovers: Nyffeler said she’ll be serving up homemade biscuit sandwiches, plus bloody marys, this Saturday, June 25 in the lounge.