UMATILLA — From the outside, The Bridge Bistro & Brews may look like the old Riverside Sports Bar, but it is much different on the inside, and the owners could not be happier about it.
“Things are good,” said Paulette Dufloth. She owns the Bridge with her husband Daren Dufloth. They owned The Riverside as well, inheriting it from Daren’s father.
She called the transition, which began in May 2020, “wonderful.” She also said the community has been very supportive.
The Riverside opened in 1994, and it was a business that supported her family in a town the Dufloths love. It also employed several people, so they do not express any regrets about it. However, they had long wanted to convert the sports bar and strip club to a family-friendly restaurant.
On March 15, 2020, they ended The Riverside due to COVID-19 concerns. They stood in the middle of their business and wondered what they would do.
“We had some hard decisions to make,” Paulette said.
They went from making an income to making nothing, and they felt stressed.
Two days after closing, they started renovating without a decision about the business and whether they would make the transition.
Paulette was feeling burnt out by the business. It was never her cup of tea, she said. And while they did not make a statement right away about changing it permanently, she said she was “hellbent” on a big change and she would not go back. The adult business would be no more, forever.
The industry, Paulette said, lends itself to a “different customer base” which is “less respectful” and “harder to control.”
As she and Daren are both over 50, they see themselves in a “retirement phase” in which they do not want to deal with a difficult clientele.
“It was becoming hard, mentally, for me to walk in the door at the end of the day,” she said. “I worked really, really hard over these 23 years. It’s aged me, and I feel my husband and I have sacrificed a lot in the time frame we’ve been here,” Paulette said.
In a few years, she may even sell The Bridge. For now, though, she said she wants to build it further and “make it the best it can be.”
She said she has recently had new opportunities that made this transition possible. With COVID-19, grants and loans have been made available to the business. They would not have been able to remodel without the assistance, she said.
Now, with the income from the kitchen rather than mostly from the bar, Paulette said the business is as profitable as it had been prior the pandemic. She is having difficulty finding employees, but she is looking and said she feels she will eventually find the right people.
There are funny moments with this change, however, she said. Sometimes, people call The Bridge to ask whether it is open and whether dancers are performing.
Yes, they are open, she says. No, there are no dancers.
Another humorous thing, Daren said, is when he hears the sound of babies, which is a strange thing to hear inside those walls.
Pivoting to something more “palatable to the community,” he said, has involved a “mind shift.” Little things, such as buying high chairs for infants to getting larger tables to accommodate families, had to be done. They also had to change advertising and reorientate the kitchen. Portion control and kitchen cost analysis, which were afterthoughts, had to be learned.
Still, Daren Dufloth said he’s glad for it and so, too, seem to be the public.