Bambu. Say the name of the Asian fusion restaurant to locals, and the words delicious, unique, and satisfying come to mind. For patrons, Bambu’s cuisine featuring flavors from Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Hawaii, Indonesia and the Philippines ignite the imagination and delight the senses.
Can a restaurant in Southern Oregon really capture all that magic? It’s easy to underestimate this little restaurant located not far from Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford. Perched on a corner in the Larson Creek Center, there is no valet parking, no dress code, and no swanky attitude. However, a warm, inviting dining room and a lush outdoor seating area offers the ability to connect with others, and the open kitchen design allows lively connection with the chef and his kitchen team. It is the very best blend of hometown hospitality and high end, adventurous flavor.
Bambu has definitely established itself as an enduring Southern Oregon foodie’s dream. But dig a little deeper, and the name also stands for something else. Bambu is a love story.
At the heart of Bambu are Adam and Veronica Ward, a couple who seem destined to create heavenly food and gracious service. The pair originally met while working at Thai Pepper in Ashland. Veronica worked for the City of Ashland and picked up a second job as a hostess at Thai Pepper. Veronica’s parents had owned a restaurant, so she grew up around the industry and understood the value of hard work and talent. It didn’t take her long to notice Adam.
“Adam had just come back from culinary school,” says Veronica. “It was a really big deal. Everyone was talking about him, and I noticed how cute he was and how hard he worked. I definitely thought he was someone I would like to show interest in.”
“Thai Pepper was in their full summer swing when I got there,” says Adam. “I thought she was amazing.”
A solid relationship between the two blossomed, and eventually Adam found himself with an opportunity to work in Medford. Billy Harto, the owner of Thai Pepper, offered Adam a chance to partner up and run a restaurant he owned in East Medford called Asian Grill II. Adam dove right in.
“At the time, there was nothing over on this side of town. It was like the edge of the world as far as Medford was concerned,” says Adam. “We decided to change the concept from a quick service restaurant to a full service, and we changed the name to Bambu. It was slow going, getting our feet off the ground.”
After a few years, Billy decided it was time to put the restaurant up for sale. Adam planned to cash out and move on to other interests, but after a few months on the market, he made a surprising decision. The open kitchen concept had resulted in an unexpected connection between the trained chef and his loyal customers.
“These were my people,” says Adam with a smile. “Suddenly I knew I wanted to stay, for them and for me, and I wanted Veronica to do it with me. I didn’t want to run it alone.”
Adam and Veronica sold their house in Ashland and bought Billy out of the Bambu partnership. Next, Veronica decided to leave her comfortable career with the City of Ashland, and she joined Adam in running the business side of the restaurant.
“My dad was very worried,” says Veronica. “He didn’t want that lifestyle for me.”
Adam and Veronica agree, the restaurant lifestyle is brutal. During one stretch, Adam went six months without a day off. It’s hard to balance culinary excellence with a personal life, especially because a restaurant’s weekend hours are typically the busiest.
“When you run a restaurant, personal lives are placed on hold,” says Veronica. “You can never go to Saturday weddings or celebrations, or spend weekend moments with the people you love. You choose to miss those moments because Fridays and Saturdays are important to the success of the business.”
Fast forward several years, and the Wards are traveling an extraordinary path. With one child in second grade, and another enrolled in kindergarten, Adam and Veronica came to understand how quickly time passes. They made a bold and risky move, one that most people thought was crazy. They decided to close Bambu on the weekends.
“In 20 years I won’t wish I would have spent more time in the kitchen,” says Adam. “I will be glad I dedicated my weekends to my family. I know not everyone has that choice, and I’m so grateful.”
“Giving our staff the weekends off has breathed new life into how we serve our own employees,” says Veronica. “Everyone can now make plans without having to worry about being called in.”
For now, the weekday schedule is working, the restaurant is thriving, and customers have supported the change. The couple have time to spend with their moms, who are both struggling with their health. Adam and Veronica still love what they do, and it’s obvious they have great respect and love for each other.
“It’s a fun business,” says Veronica. “It’s a labor of love. Food brings people together.”
In the case of Bambu, we’re especially glad it does.