The Bank Bistro paying dividends
If Mary Carolyn Walker has one regret about launching The Bank Bistro & Bar in downtown Washington, it is that she did not open it sooner.
“I would have done it all right when I got back here instead of wasting my time trying to get back into the medical industry here. I submitted resumes to everyone in town and got nothing back,” Walker said.
After graduating from Washington High School in 2000, the Washington native worked on and off in the food service industry before landing a job running a medical equipment company in Wilmington. With no real plans for her future, she moved to New York City in 2010 and took a job at Sutton Place, a three-story bar, restaurant and night club.
“I worked with a woman that had spent her life running and opening restaurants,” Walker said. “She basically apprenticed me. I followed her around, I watched what she did, how she handled people, customers, liquor orders — all that.”
But it wasn’t long before Walker began to yearn for her family back home. Upon returning to Washington in 2011, she joined forces with her father to purchase the old bank building, turning it into The Bank Bistro & Bar.
“I always wanted to move back to Washington and I always wanted to run my own business here,” Walker said “I would never in a million years thought it to be a restaurant.
“I immediately saw a need for something downtown. There was a lot of very long nights talking about what we wanted this place to be like. We tried to consider Washington’s budget, what we wanted personally, the food we wanted to sell, the freshness aspect, what Washington was missing, and what was still Southern and we could get behind.”
Walker hired chef Burt Williams to run the kitchen and after a lot of trial and error, they finalized the menu.
“It’s eclectic Southern. It’s kind of Southern but a little different,” Walker said. “Burt Williams added all the ingredients to bring it together. This is his very first head chef position.”
The day after her 30th birthday, Walker opened for business.
The dinner menu offers something for everybody — from a flamed-broiled rib-eye steak with wild mushroom sauce or the petite Filet Mignon wrapped in Applewood bacon to shrimp and hoe cakes or the bee-keeper salmon. A signature item on the menu is rich chicken — “pan seared chicken breast topped with wilted spinach, goat cheese and artichoke hearts with lemon caper sauce.”
The lunch crowd can choose from a wide selection of sandwiches.
“The sandwiches at lunch are really meant to make your mouth water,” Walker said. “That’s my goal is for people to look at the sandwiches and just absolutely have to have one. When we were making all of those sandwiches — just the process of picking out the ingredients for each individual sandwich to make sure that it all works together and trying it — we put a ton of work into the lunch menu especially.”
Walker and Williams conceived a variety of gourmet grilled cheeses — steak and grilled cheese, garden grilled cheese, buffalo chicken cheese and the pig cheese. A popular lunch item is the Teller’s Turkey: smoked turkey, applewood smoked bacon, fontina and pesto mayonnaise on wheat berry bread.
The focal point of the restaurant is the granite bar surrounding the old bank vault where the spirits are stored.
After surviving some opening jitters, Walker has no regrets.
“It’s taken a lot of work but it’s also been a ton of fun. That’s what I would tell people. If your heart is in it and you’re making the calls yourself and not letting other people run it for you, it’s so much more rewarding than just investing in a business.”
The Bank Bistro & Bar is located at 216 W. Main St., Washington. For more information, call 252-948-9000.