Be sure to check their Facebook page and website for the COVID guidelines Bridge has in place for your safety and theirs.
The restaurant scene in Westerly is diverse and robust, with each local business offering something distinct to its customers. Over the past decade, Bridge has established itself as one of the premier culinary establishments in town, offering a diverse array of approachable and high-quality menu items. Hope Valley native Dan Latimer is the General Manager at Bridge and was gracious enough to give us an inside look at what makes Bridge stand apart.
Bridge’s owner Dave Parr originally hired a 23-year-old Dan as the restaurant’s General Manager a decade ago, though he didn’t stay too long at the time, instead opting to finish his undergrad degree, make plans for graduate school, and start a family. However, having completed a degree in pre-veterinary medicine and minors in Philosophy and Chemistry, Dan decided to go back to basics, taking a page from Dave’s book and starting up his own business.
“I’d always done well in the restaurant industry, so about five or six years ago I decided to make a career out of this instead,” Dan explained. “Dave’s a fantastic businessman. I learned a lot from him at a very young age and always took those lessons with me so when I began to transition to administration, I had a really good foundation. I began studying wine and founded a small wine consulting company called Wine Works with a colleague, and Bridge was actually our first client.”
With an outstanding location and a unique menu built on fresh ingredients, Bridge was already a success by the time Dan came back to the restaurant.
“Our business model has always been an attractive one,” Dan explained. “Dave and his chefs focus on taking really good ingredients and putting everything together in a way that elevates the meal so it’s both exciting and approachable.”
Nothing is sacrificed for the sake of cost or convenience. For example, the honey for the cornbread is sourced from Aquidneck Farms in Portsmouth, and Dan says some people might be surprised at how much it costs, but he believes it’s all about the little details and sparing no expense. Whole porks are sourced from Wild Harmony Farms in Exeter, and a local butcher is brought in to break it down in-house, which provides both fresh products as well as an educational experience for any staff who choose to stick around for the process.
Aside from locally-sourced meat and daily arrivals of fresh fish and shellfish to keep the seafood menu items and raw bar fresh beyond belief, Bridge is well known for its abundant variety of vegan and vegetarian options. Dave founded Bridge as someone who was entrenched in the local yoga community and because of that momentum, the restaurant positioned itself to cater to health-conscientious and environmentally-conscientious customers in a way unmatched by others. Dan reports that approximately 30% of food sales were their vegan or vegetarian options recently.
As a wine consultant then and as general manager now, Dan’s primary focus is on consistently enhancing the service at Bridge and improving upon the staff’s product knowledge. Upon his return to his old position of GM last summer, Dan was accompanied by friend and business partner Chad Bauerle who came on as Assistant General Manager.
“He’s been an instrumental part of the management team,” Dan said.
The two began conducting daily meetings and encouraging self-scrutiny from the top-down, asking questions like “what is it that we do here and how can do we do that better,” and “are we making a decision that will benefit diners?”
Dan and Chad’s approach to staff buy-in and empowerment is influenced heavily by “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer, which is based on offering employees more than just monetary compensation, but also a chance to learn.
“Our business model is driven by the premise that if you spare no expense in educating your staff then everything else falls into place, and our goal is to be at such a level that if you can get a job here, you can get a job anywhere,” Dan explained.
“Our pride in our staff is through the roof,” he shared. “Everyone’s had a job that they just go through the motions with, and there are low barriers to entry into the restaurant world so it’s easy to see this position as a means to an end. I know that first hand. The industry put me through school. But when you give somebody something exciting that they can grab hold of and be proud of, the dynamic really changes.”
Of course, no article about a restaurant written in the current climate could look past the effect that the coronavirus has had on the industry. Bridge chose not to modify their business model to allow for takeout/delivery, instead opting to close its doors completely for the duration of the quarantine, although Dan and Chad have been keeping in regular contact with staff via email.
“We’re pretty established, so this made more sense for us,” Dan said. “But there’s a lot of concern for even smaller restaurants than us who have less momentum, and it will be a travesty if they can’t survive.”
The good news is that once social distancing measures are loosened or eliminated, helping our local economy bounce back will be a delicious endeavor. Be sure to order takeout and delivery from those restaurants in town who are offering it, and come by Bridge as soon as their doors open again. Whether you’re seated near one of the two fireplaces designed to keep you cozy during the winter or enjoying some outside dining directly on the Pawcatuck River in the warmer months, Bridge is an experience not to be missed.