It was a moment of pure improvisation, youthful and playful. But it would inspire the name — and perhaps the fun, experimental style—of one of Chef and Restaurateur Jonathan Sweatt’s major projects.
“As teenagers, my friend Jon Sanders and I were in this band together — just for fun, doing mostly covers and a few originals, but we didn’t have a band name,” Jonathan remembers. “We were on stage at a gig, and someone yelled out, ‘Who are you guys?’ Jon was wearing an earring of this flying goat, so he responded with, “We’re the flying goats!”
The name and the whimsy behind it has lasted far longer than the band itself did. Sitting on the patio with Jonathan at The Flying Goat on Spokane’s Northwest Boulevard, it’s easy to see that he still loves to have a good time, and to please the crowd. Jonathan has the angular shape of that flying goat earring tattooed on his arm, as a way to remember those days with his old friend, who has since passed away. It’s a hot weekday afternoon, but the lunch crowd today is sizeable, and the neapolitan-style pizzas are coming out of the oven, as always, with that perfect touch of char.
For many years, where we are sitting now was only a glimmer in Jonathan’s imagination. After culinary school and working in other people’s restaurants for years, he successfully opened Downriver Grill with his family in 2003, carving out a niche of upscale dining that isn’t only for special occasions. But even early on, those buildings just across the Boulevard occupied Jonathan’s daydreams.
“It was an old auto service station on one side, and a barber shop and accordion store on the other,” he remembers, gesturing toward structures from the past. “I told the business owners to let me know if they ever wanted to sell. That took years, and then getting the city on board and everything built out took several more years. But in 2010, we launched it.” Jonathan smiles, thinking back to that gig decades ago, “And I knew we needed to call it the Flying Goat.”
It’s been a hit. Armed with a world-class Wood Stone oven made in Bellingham, the dream was to bring a service-oriented pub with truly unique pies to the lush, walkable Audubon Park neighborhood. Locals have come to crave their pizzas, from the yellow-curry “D Street” to the “Dalton” — a pulled-pork-and-coleslaw masterpiece.
For Jonathan and the team, dreaming up a similar spot in a different neighborhood was almost an inevitability: enter Republic Pi in 2015 on Spokane’s South Hill, where Sweatt was raised. Executive Chef Darrin Gleason, one of several original employees from Downriver Grill’s early days, is now a co-owner at Republic Pi. This is just one example of a business model that has allowed the group to maintain long-term employees.
“Our goal is to take care of our people so they can take care of our guests,” says Sweatt, adding proudly that all of their restaurants have original staff members from opening day—even 14 years after Downriver Grill opened.
When asked about a challenge they’ve had to overcome, Sweatt points to a specific detail: that char on the pizza crust.
“We’ve done a lot of training and educating on that, because especially at first, it was this difficult balance,” he says. “The balance is between being true to our style and concept of artisan, neapolitan-style pizza, but also being totally committed to each guest having a great experience.”
Inevitably at first, some reacted less than positively to the 20-30% char that is simply a part of the intended flavor profile. For those who hadn’t encountered it in the past, some would jump to the conclusion that the pizza had been mistakenly burned. But by working with chefs to keep things consistently in that range and training servers to mention the specific style with new guests, the flavor has certainly caught on, and that balance has been achieved.
Finding balance in business is also where INB enters the story.
“For us, INB is a great partner, because they have actually taken the time to get to know what our business is about. I also love how willing INB is to partner with us as we connect with great local nonprofits. I see them out supporting the same great charitable organizations we do, and that is important to me, and it’s a way we can partner.”
An example of this is the upcoming Gleason Fest. Having known Steve Gleason since high school and watched his journey from the Cougs to the Saints to his world-inspiring, “No White Flags” life with ALS, Sweatt is committed to providing as much support as possible for Team Gleason this year.
“INB came to me with the idea of doing more this year, and I felt it was important to jump on board,” he says.
The Flying Goat and Republic Pi are excited to host a tap takeover with Bale Breaker Brewing Company — a family-owned business whose family has been directly affected by ALS. It’s all happening on Tuesday, August 8 and Thursday, August 10, as a way to ramp up excitement for Gleason Fest’s main Riverfront Park concert event on Saturday, August 12. For each Bale Breaker pint sold on those days, $3 will be donated to Team Gleason’s research efforts, and for every “Kiernan” or “37” pie (Steve’s favorite pizza and his Saints jersey number), $5 will be donated, and this is all on top of 10% of all sales in the restaurants as well as raffling off a limited edition Felt bike.
These events are just one more way for Sweatt and his team to bring the community together around the table for great local food and drink, and this time, we gather to rally around a great cause as well.