BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – If you ask Hitomi Moritani and Jimmie Wendorf how they measure success for their quaint neighborhood restaurant, chances are you won’t hear anything about dollars and cents.
The two opened Simple Table in Fort Madison almost three years ago and are celebrating the restaurant’s anniversary on Oct. 31 with a costume party featuring tapas, live music, and prizes on Saturday, Oct. 28 starting at 6 p.m.
The growth of Simple Table locally has been in just filling the downtown bistro with friends and recurring customers.
“We have people that come on Monday, and we’ll have people that come on Tuesday and over lunch time, too. Eighty percent of our customers are return customers, so I think in terms of success – that’s it,” Moritani said early Monday evening as several couples filed in right at opening.
Moritani easily greets the couples, who sit at different wooden tables and then cracks open a bottle of wine to start their evening meal.
Wendorf opens a tablet and pulls up a Spotify account, touches a track and music slips over the dim-lit restaurant that, jam-packed, may hold 30.
But they come here for a reason. It is the “simplicity” of it all, garnished with Moritani’s under-rated offerings for those looking for something more than can be obtained with a five second greeting and “please full forward”.
The two bank on the experience their customers get. It helps develop a well-defined day-to-day menu.
“It’s been a journey. I can’t believe three years is already here, but if you’re busy, time flies. Simple Table is successful enough for us to create the place across the street.” Wendorf said.
That place across the street is the 7th Street Marketplace which the two purchased in the spring and orchestrated a five-business enterprise anchored by “sip. (n.) a coffee and wine bistro” and Harvestville Mercantile. Also in the new venture are Sun Meets Moon Holistic Healing, Sugar Lumps, and Tacos, Tacos, TAKOS. The latter of which is an offshoot from Simple Table and features seasonal daily taco specials. Wendorf said that business will be closing for the season on Saturday. It will reopen before June 1 next year, “when we get the first 10 or so good days of warmer weather” he said.
But Simple Table has taken on a character of its own even as the new venture across the street takes off.
“There’s been quite a bit of evolution over time,” Wendorf said. “We’ve really gotten to know what people are interested in. In the beginning we had some ideas, but some things come and you try them out to see how well they do. Hitomi’s figured out what she can do. Some places open big with all these options and they fall flat because it’s just too much.” Wendorf said.
“I think with us we’ve adapted to what people like… what we can do right. We’ve kept it small because we don’t want to get into all that. After three years it’s not going to change.”
Moritani said the restaurant itself has grown in the hours of business and selection.
“We started only offering dinner and then we decided to add lunch time, then we added more dessert items,” she said. “Slowly it grew, but nothing over the top. It’s still the same people doing everything. We’re small enough that we know everybody’s name and we know what they want and then we continue to take care of them and build on that.”
The couple doesn’t see a lot of major changes in the next two to three years, but would like to mix up some of what customers see on a regular basis.
“We just want to keep doing what we’re doing. I’d like to change some of the equipment and maybe upgrade the services from just beer and wine, to possibly cocktails.”
Moritani said small changes are fine, but outgrowing the fresh, homemade feel of the menu cannot change.
“We want to keep the things the way they are. Everything handmade, nothing premade and even growing, we are sticking to it. That’s the most important thing to me. I don’t want to get so busy that we buy frozen this or frozen that. That’s not going to happen,” Moritani said.