Michele Abrams is betting the lure of fine food in a luxurious setting will draw diners, brides and event planners to the Horn Rapids neighborhood.
After a soft launch in March, Abrams formally opens her restaurant and event center, At Michele's, on Aug. 10 and 11 at the site of a former winery in the Horne Rapids Industrial Park.
The north Richland business is quickly gaining a following for serving fine cuisine in a stylish setting accompanied by live music.
Abrams, 67, is a first-time entrepreneur and mother of 15 — seven biological and eight adopted — with several still at home. Her youngest is 13.
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Her transformation from stay-at-home mother to restaurateur began when one of her daughters sang in a band that performed at the Thomas O'Neil Cellars.
Abrams loved the location and would frequently go to hear her daughter perform. Even later, Abrams enjoyed the setting and continued to visit the winery to listen to music.
In time, O'Neil asked if she was interested in buying the property.
Abrams, who had divorced, spied a need for more fine dining opportunities in the Tri-Cities and for an event spaces to compete with wineries for a piece of the local wedding market.
She bought the winery from O'Neil and a neighboring parcel from the city of Richland. Her real estate broker helped assemble a development team that included an architect, designer and builder.
Abrams said she was emboldened to invest personal money in the venture after watching the Tri-Cities grow in the 39 years since she moved here from Cleveland, by way of California.
She'd watched the community develop, attracting educated, well-paid workers who complained they had to travel for a unique dining experience.
"We want to keep them here," she said.
Little of the original winery survives.
At Michele's is a lushly landscaped indoor-outdoor destination with an airy dining room, plush velvet lounge, bar, private dining area, a bride's room and stages both inside and out.
Abrams hauled her own wedding dress out of storage to give the bride's room the right bit of flair.
At Michele's hosts local and visiting bands and is compiling a house band, as well.
Abrams shies away from taking credit for the results.
"I don't know enough to know I can't," she joked.
She credits her development team, her staff of 16, and son Jordan, a film maker in New York on hand to help with the launch, for the winery's successful transformation.
Partners include architect Jason Archibald, Cliff Thorne Construction and designer Virginia Pitts of Design Resource in Richland.
Chef Logan Carr leads the kitchen staff and the bar is under the direction of Lee Davidson. Bargreen Ellingson designed the kitchen. At Michele's caters all events on site.
Entrees run from $17 for a pork belly burger to $40 for a rib-eye dinner, with plenty of choices in the $25 to $35 range.
There is a separate gluten-free and dairy-free menu and a small plates menu offering bacon-and-bleu stuffed risotto balls, hummus, truffle fries, beef skewers and sliders.
After building the physical business, Abrams said she's looking forward to building a thriving dining and event business. Longer term plans include transferring the business to her children if they're interested.
For now, she's happy to spend time interacting with visitors.
"It keeps me going," she said.
Restaurant hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday and 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Sunday brunch is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The rest of the time At Michele's is available for private events.
Grand opening festivities begin with a formal ribbon cutting ceremony at 5 p.m. Aug. 10, followed by dinner service and live music. The celebration continue at 4 p.m. Aug. 11 with a Hawaiian-themed program that includes hula dancers, fire breathers and music.
At Michele's is at 2323 Henderson Loop and on Facebook @atmicheleseventcenter.