By Christina Harper For The Herald Business Journal
MONROE — Adam Hoffman is a good storyteller. He is animated and excited when he tells the one about the fishing pole that snapped when he was in Alaska.
The best part is not “the one that got away” but the idea that the fishing pole snapping maybe, just maybe, was what has led Hoffman to where he is now: passionate about a business 20 years in the making in a place he loves.
Hoffman, or Chef as he is known around town, is owner and chef at Adam’s Northwest Bistro and Brewery in Monroe where he lives his culinary dream in bringing fresh, local food to tables of diners who want a taste of something other than a frozen burger or fries.
It all began when Hoffman was sous chef for chef-owner Thierry Rautureau at the now closed Rover’s, a well-known French restaurant in Seattle.
Having worked there for more than a decade Hoffman took a trip to Alaska with a diner who traveled around the world studying fish. The patron had been encouraging Hoffman to get out of the kitchen and take a break for a while.
“My chef said, ‘Adam, would you just go,’” Hoffman said.
Once in Alaska, Hoffman would stay back and cook in the cabin on a wood stove while the rest of the group went off to explore — this time looking for algae. With his bear spray and a canoe, Hoffman decided to go fly-fishing.
“It’s very serene but there’s nobody there,” Hoffman said. “It’s a little creepy.”
Hoffman, who lives with his family about 10 miles south of Monroe, had not caught anything in Alaska but attached his last fly and cast his line.
“All of a sudden my pole started spinning and there he was right in front of me,” Hoffman said. It was a five-pound trout — not a world record by any measure but great for Hoffman, who was used to catching one-pound fish.
“It was fat and beautiful,” Hoffman said.
Even though Hoffman always caught fish and released them, he really wanted his fly back. It had been a gift from a fly-fishing expert in Monroe. Hoffman tried to pull the trout in gently but it began to thrash.
“I touched him. At least I caught him but he got my fly,” Hoffman said. “I looked up and my pole had snapped.”
When he got back home, Hoffman went to his friend in Monroe who said he would show him how to make a new fishing pole. The painstaking process meant that Hoffman would work on the project an hour a day before heading to Seattle for work.
He hadn’t spent a great amount of time in Monroe. As he traveled there daily to work on the project, he began to notice the town more clearly. He would drive down Main Street and imagine horses, buggies and no cars.
“It’s kinda quaint,” Hoffman said. “It’s kinda neat.”
Then one day Hoffman saw a place for sale. He’d been looking for a restaurant for years. That first one in Monroe didn’t work out and neither did the second space he tried to secure. Still working on his fishing pole, Hoffman became frustrated at deals falling through. He went to have a beer and Mexican food. In talking to the restaurant owner and telling him his story, Hoffman was greeted with some news. The Sailfish restaurant owned by Tim Kovach was for sale.
“I met him the next day and we talked for three hours,” Hoffman said.
They talked about beer and philosophy, chef to chef.
“We were talking the same language,” Hoffman said.
That was late 2010 and Hoffman hasn’t looked back. He remodeled the former Sailfish premises and in 2011 started serving customers his bar-food-meets-comfort-food, incorporating his Old World methods such as curing meats and making cheese.
From Rover’s to The Bistro was a journey for Hoffman. His Monroe business is more casual but benefits from his lengthy French cooking background. He first thought that fresh scallops and clams might be a gamble in these parts.
“I sell a lot of them,” Hoffman said.
All meats are butchered at the restaurant and every thing is fresh and as local as it can be: Northwest seafood stew with Pacific fish and seafood with tomato, fennel and thyme broth, or Adam’s burger with Washington sirloin, house bacon, fried onion, blue cheese, BBQ sauce, and garlic fries with aioli.
The only two things Hoffman does not make in his bistro are the ketchup and ice cream.
Hoffman’s fine dining cooking experience serves the restaurant well.
Hoffman opened the Twin River Brewery next door to Adam’s Northwest Bistro in February. It’s decorated in an old Monroe kind of way with antiques and photos of some patron’s family members.
“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘That’s my grandpa!’ because they have the original at home,” Hoffman said.
The community of Monroe came together to help Hoffman realize his dream. People came in to help with decorating and painting, and others brought spices and offered help in other ways.
Hoffman has also brought some of his late father’s items into his business to get a sense of him being there. He was a vascular surgeon and Hoffman played with some of the things that surround him when he visited his father’s offices as a boy.
“It reminds me of time I spent with my dad,” he said.
In the brewery there are items from all around the area including tap handles on the wall that were a gift from prisoners at Monroe Correctional Complex, the tops of which are shaped in the form of guard towers.
“I had to put those up,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman has six beers in his brewery including an IPA and Signature Nut Brown Ale. He runs a guest tap and with a new fermenter in place Hoffman will be able to double production.
Hoffman did finish building his custom fishing pole but when he opened Adam’s Northwest Bistro and Brewery his fishing career was put on hold.
“The irony is that I built this custom pole,” Hoffman said. “It’s like having a Ferrari and just keeping it in the garage and you go past it and say, ‘That would be nice to drive.’”