Flavor Moments: Walkers Celebrates 25 Years

Mar 5, 2018

Owner Bill Honaker sits in the newly remodeled Walkers.
Credit Stella Fong

On Friday February 23, Walkers celebrated 25 years. Executive Chef Mike Callaghan returned to cook old favorites and John Roberts of Pan Blanco spirited the customers with Latin jazz.

In downtown Billings, Walkers has renewed and rebranded. In 1993 Bill Honaker and his brother James opened up the downtown dining establishment named after their father, an OB-GYN in town. James has moved on to his own restaurant, Bistro Enzo located in the west end of town.

Walkers’ life began in another location in the old Chamber of Commerce building with a move to the present location right across the street from the Doubletree Hotel in 2004.

Honaker said, “This is the fifth time we have done some form of renovation.” Targeting those between the ages of 25 to 55, Honaker realized tastes have changed from the original concept. Dining is not just about the food but encompasses the entire experience from ambiance to service. Also dining practices and patterns have changed.

Whereas before customers made reservations and lingered, Honaker shared, “People don’t make reservations like they used to. The scenario is where people call friends up and they had cocktails, and they had an appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert and a bottle of wine and people don’t have that time to invest into that experience so if you want to come in and not spend a lot of money and out 20 minutes you can.

Walkers Grill, a dining icon since 1993.
Credit Stella Fong

When refashioning the restaurant, Honaker decided to break the previous formal dining room in half. He said, “We raised the formal dining room portion and the rest of it is kind of flex based.”

The old bar is still intact with Craige Whiteley’s custom welded metal bottle rack and the barb wired chandelier. Now, additional informal space is available for walk-ins and less formal dining.

With the design ideas of James Kordonowy of A and E Architects, the restaurant now holds a more urban vibe. A mid-century jazz club theme intermixes with modern industrial combined with rustic western. Mustard color dominates the bench seating with bright pastel splashes of color above. Gone are the earth tones and grays. Graffiti graces the walls across from a metal panel simulating sheet music.

Executive Chef Nick Steen’s presence plays a major role in the renewing of Walkers. Steen’s menu is fun, young and innovative. The menu categories include SHARED OR SELFISH, PASTA & GRAINS, THE FARMER and THE BUTCHER & THE MONGER. Though the original James Beard meatloaf and Bourbon Street Pasta are still on the menu, the WALKERS HOUSE SALAD is notated with a “2.0” as it is the old salad that has been updated with the addition of lemon basil vinaigrette and cherry peppers. PORK BELLY STREET TACOS, LAMB MEATBALL RISOTTO and BRAISED PORK SHANK along with RAMEN OF THE WEEK make for the new creations on the menu.

Walkers located in downtown Billings.
Credit Stella Fong

Not only established as food venue but Walkers has over the years hosted many jazz artists. Local cats, as Honaker calls his guest musicians, have brought smooth and vibrant sounds include John Roberts, Parker Brown, Erik Olson and Alex Nauman.

Honaker may be businessman by day, but he is percussionist by night. Every Sunday night, music starts at  7:00 and Honaker shared, “I play 70% of the time.” If he did not have his day job, he admitted he would be a drummer.

When ending the interview with Honaker, he said he hoped to see me at Walkers 25 years from now. I responded with “me too.”