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Eye On | Stones Gastropub — Rock-solid eatery: Former Wine Thief owners carve a new niche

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Amber Such, left, and Kelly Cordell, both of Wenatchee, have a window seat to Wenatchee Avenue while eating dinner in December at Stones Gastropub. The restaurant operates in downtown Wenatchee across Wenatchee Avenue from the Wenatchee Convention Center and Numerica Performing Arts Center.

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Paul and Jenni McNeil are not satisfied with just being “good enough.” That’s why at Stones Gastropub in downtown Wenatchee, the McNeil’s are always trying to improve, adapt, and find the next hit on their ever-changing menu.

Previously the owners of The Wine Thief, Paul and Jenni made the switch to a full-size restaurant in 2015. A near-total overhaul of the space’s interior followed, and Paul did most of the labor. Stones is open from 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 3-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The open spaces and dim lighting make for an ambiance that loyal customer Bethany Brood can’t get enough of.

You can go to Stones for a bunch of different occasions,” Brood said. “We can go there for date night, we go there with our kids. I absolutely love their burgers. I feel like I’m not just going for a burger, but for the atmosphere. We’re not fancy, but the ambiance there is nice, the lighting is nice, the colors are nice. It’s a very comfortable place. We’ve sat outside on the patio, up at the bar, everywhere. I just went there last night.”

As a well-established wine shop and bistro, changing names from The Wine Thief to Stones Gastropub was quite strategic.

Stones is something that we kind of had tucked away for a while,” Paul said. “Something that wouldn’t identify us as individuals per se, it would leave it open, but also, some of the best wines in the state come from vineyards that are all stones. It kind of made sense, it was earthy, it was organic. It was one word, one syllable, it was easy to remember. For us, we wanted something that would stick with people. We didn’t want it to just be called Stones, but we didn’t want to call it Stones Restaurant or Stones Eatery or Stones Pub because those are identifiable niches for other things. So Jenni came up with Gastropub, which is kind of a phrase coined a long time ago for kind of higher-end food and a more casual atmosphere.”

Using the word gastropub allows the McNeils to experiment with the menu, and also allows them not to be pigeonholed into one specific food type or culture cuisine. Of course, Paul and Jenni are wine aficionados and have a plethora of wines to suit any palate, including the hugely popular Wahluke Dead Crow, but oftentimes it’s the food that keeps loyal customers like Brood coming back for more.

The burgers are a staple on the menu, but Stones’ dirty fries, chocolate mousse dessert, and coffee creme brûlée are items that will never leave. Oh, and don’t forget the ribeye steak and seemingly random gyro that sell like hotcakes.

Stones prides itself on its fresh ingredients and cautions customers that while it may take longer to receive their food from the time of order, they will enjoy the quality of food arriving on their plates. The fries, soups, salads, sauces, and flatbreads are all made it house with quality ingredients from around the state.

Paul said there’s a concerted effort as a staff to not only source those quality products at a reasonable price but to provide service rarely seen in North Central Washington. Brood agrees she notices a good server when she sees one.

It seems that it’s hard to get excellent service in this area,” Brood said. “The staff at Stones. they are very knowledgeable, very helpful. If I’m in there and I want it to be a long affair, they understand that and kind of let me be. Sometimes I’m with my kids, and they can kind of read me on how we want to go. They’re great.”

Paul and Jenni agreed that being down on Wenatchee Avenue with lack of readily-available parking has been an issue, their love of the community reaffirms their choice to move to the busiest part of town.

I think learning where the demand is in the community was tough,” Jenni said. “We were doing lunches six days a week but then decided to stop. That was a hard decision for us because we didn’t want it to appear that we were closing. But we had to look at everything … ‘Our lunch menu is this way, here are the numbers for lunch.’ Another big thing was our storage. We have a tiny area in the back, so to support two menus and to do the growth we really wanted to see, we decided to just do dinners, but to open seven nights a week.”

The result is one menu, every day, with options to satisfy everyone big and small, young and old.

Stones also does catered events and has options for children. But Paul and Jenni want Stones to be thought of as a place to go for any occasion, not just special nights out or celebrations. Paul and Jenni want North Central Washington to have an upscale option that rivals restaurants in Seattle or Portland and will go to any length to adapt and change to the demand of the area.

We want to get into people’s minds on a daily basis that we are a great spot for any night of the week. We want to be the first place they want to go to,” Jenni said.

We want to make sure that this community that we love so much has quality food and great service, and that it is available right here on Wenatchee Avenue,” Paul added. “That’s been more or less our philosophy from the beginning, is what can we bring to Wenatchee that can’t be found anywhere else? Wherever we go around the state or around the country we look for things that might fit here and are constantly adapting. Not everything we like is able to work here because the population is small in a sense. We’re not really well-known, and sometimes we get criticism for certain things, but we note those complaints and adjust accordingly. That doesn’t go on deaf ears. We’re always trying to serve the customer first.”

For Paul and Jenni, striving to be the best they can be for the community they love drives them, and they won’t ever stop trying to improve every facet of Stones Gastropub.