Walla Walla native returns home to build relationships through Wingman

Hannah Bartman

On the corner of Main and Palouse sits Walla Walla’s first wings and beer restaurant: Wingman Birdz and Brewz. Owned by Brendon Mendoza, a born-and-raised Walla Wallan, Wingman has been open for roughly two months and aims to build a strong and loyal local culture.

When I walked into Wingman to speak with Mendoza, I forgot that I was in the small, rural locale of Walla Walla and felt like I was transported to an oh-so-hip and trendy craft brew pub like those found in Portland. (Mendoza describes the interior, designed by an Italian-born Walla Walla resident, as “modern industrial” because it “feels timeless.”)

The menu itself is unique, surprising and exhaustive. Customers can order their wings with a choice of 19 sauces, including Mendoza’s favorites peanut butter and jelly, raspberry chipotle, mango-habanero and maple bacon bourbon. The craft beer selection includes three beers from the recently opened and local brewery Burwood Brewery. Aside from the dependable Bud Light, Coors Light and Blue Moon, all other beers are from the Pacific Northwest.

“People around here like the work local and they like to spend money local,” said Mendoza.

The business was in some ways formed locally as well. Mendoza’s parents have owned the building over the lifetime of the past two businesses; it first housed a bistro for 13 years and then a vegan café. Last March Mendoza’s parents called him at his home in Austin, Texas and told him that the building had come up vacant.

“I got off the phone with my mom and I said to my wife, ‘Hey, what do you think about going back to Walla Walla and opening and a restaurant?’ and she said, ‘Well, what would you do?’ and I said ‘beer and wings,'”  he said.

That night, Mendoza and his wife stayed up for 20 hours making a business plan. From that point, the couple moved to Walla Walla, a place that Brendon hadn’t called home for 13 years.

After he graduated from the University of Washington in 1999 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Mendoza moved to California and got a job working for Olive Garden. Over the next 13 years Mendoza was promoted within Olive Garden’s corporate management and traveled from Santa Ana, Calif. to Las Vegas, Nev. and Austin, Texas.

“Most recently I had nearly a thousand employees and nine general managers under me, so [running Wingman means] a lot less people to be responsible for,” he said.

Mendoza’s management experience is evident in his understanding of genuine and efficient customer service.

“I strongly believe that guest service is our lifeblood. When I’m here, I’m committed to talking to everyone that comes to the door,” he said. “I want to build relationships because this is a very relationship-based town.”

And he does indeed stick to this approach –– every person that finished their meal and walked out the door during our short interview gave Mendoza a wave and thanked him.

Other than working with local incentives and deals in his current business, Mendoza does not yet have any long-term plans for his interaction in Walla Walla’s foodie culture.

“I want it to be a yearlong restaurant where locals come all year,” he said. “I want it to be a community.”