Building an Empire
Charleston’s Bridge Road Bistro is much more than just a restaurant.
Photographed by Elizabeth Roth
Sandy Call signs off on all emails the same way, with a signature that reads, “General Manager, The Bridge Road Bistro Empire.” Bring up her tendency to call the restaurant an empire and Sandy will laugh at the cheekiness of her phrasing, but she stands behind it. “I really think of it as an empire,” she says. “I started tagging my emails like that about a year and a half ago because I looked around and realized we’d grown in all of these different areas, and the word empire seemed to fit.” Indeed, The Bridge Road Bistro has all the fittings of an empire, with its sprawling network of business ventures all operating under one umbrella.
The Bridge Road Bistro’s flagship restaurant—Sandy calls it “the mothership”—is located in Charleston’s chic Bridge Road retail district, in an elegant space with a beautiful wooden bar and lots of candlelight. Locals often shorten the name, calling it just “the bistro,” and think of it as a go-to restaurant for an upscale dining experience—it’s a reflexive choice for anniversary dinners, birthdays, or any sort of special occasion. But despite the posh atmosphere, it’s relatively casual—there’s live bluegrass music most weekend evenings, and booth seating. “We do all this fancy stuff, but we do want you to come in here with your buddies and enjoy the music,” Sandy says. “We don’t want people to be afraid to come with their kids in their T-shirts and jeans and have a nice meal with their families.”
Of course there’s a lot more to The Bridge Road Bistro than just that restaurant. The empire also includes a substantial catering division that handles everything from the food service at the Charleston Tennis Club to lunches delivered to boardrooms to weddings to parties at the governor’s mansion. There are less conventional projects, too, that are helping expand the bistro’s reach throughout the Kanawha Valley. Last year the restaurant launched a food truck that travels to local festivals and events and roams around town at lunchtime on weekdays, parking in a different location each day.
Photographed by Nikki Bowman
The truck is painted black with the bistro’s subtle logo on it so it stands out on the street. Patrons call it “the black truck,” and Sandy calls it “Bessie.” “She has a lot of character. She’s an old thing so she gave us fits for a while, but now we’ve learned to work with her, and we’re really happy with how it’s working out,” Sandy says. “It’s something different. You can just pull up, feed a bunch of people, and then pull away. It’s great.” Patrons keep up with the truck’s whereabouts using the bistro’s social media account and its smartphone app.
That’s right—there’s an app. The restaurant launched it last year and uses it to keep the legions of loyal customers up-to-date on all things Bridge Road Bistro. Features include a regularly updated food and wine menu, events calendar, loyalty card, and tip calculator. The app jives with Sandy’s philosophy about the bistro’s growth—she wants the restaurant to be forward-thinking and inventive. “I want to adapt, especially to suit the younger generations,” she says.
It’s with that in mind that the empire moved into its latest brick-and-mortar venture, a café-style restaurant in the Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College building in South Charleston, on the campus of the West Virginia Regional Technology Park. “My vision for that venue is more of an upscale California coffee shop—just some nice healthy sandwiches, salads and wraps, coffees and cappuccinos,” Sandy says. The new café will cater to students at the community college and at Marshall University’s Charleston campus nearby, plus all the professionals who work in the technology park. Sandy wants it to be fresh, fun, and tech-savvy. The atmosphere at the new space is casual, with tables that can wirelessly charge devices like smartphones and tablets. “The kids or even the professionals can come in and talk, chat, charge their devices, and have a bite,” Sandy says.
The one constant across all of The Bridge Road Bistro brands is a commitment to fine food—it’s a farm-to-table restaurant with a commitment to seasonal food and close ties to local farms. But the types of food served from venue to venue vary dramatically: You can go to the flagship restaurant for a grass-fed rib eye steak, catch the food truck for nachos or an empanada, or visit the new café for a sandwich that costs less than $5. “We’re trying to give everyone a taste of The Bridge Road Bistro without them even thinking about the fact that it’s happening,” Sandy says.The Bridge Road Bistro, 915 Bridge Road, Charleston, WV 25314, 304.720.3500, thebridgeroadbistro.com