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Smooth jazz, tasty noshes come together at Orenco Station Grill

COURTESY PHOTO: BETTY CAMPBELL - Orenco Station Grill owner Bob Hillis likes to add musical ambience to his restaurant while providing local musicians a place to perform.Orenco Station Grill is known for its menu of seafood and steaks, but owner Bob Hillis believes his food is enhanced by the décor of the restaurant, the service and the ambiance created by live music.

Hillis notes that like the food he serves, much of which is sourced locally and all made from scratch in the restaurant, he pulls from some of the best local musical talent. The restaurant has live music on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Some of the groups contact him by email or phone, providing online links to samples of their music. He listens carefully, and chooses accompaniment that will add to the restaurant’s ambiance.

“We want the dining experience to be something very special. The live music is something extra to make their visit that much better,” Hillis said.

Adding music was one of the changes that Hillis made when he purchased the business in 2010. No stranger to the restaurant business (he had been working in restaurants, beginning as a dishwasher and bus boy from the age of 15,) he knew that the menu needed to be improved, and the decor needed an upgrade.

Few restaurants in the area currently offer live music, points out Haley Horsfall of the Horsfall Duo. Horsfall plays on the first Wednesday of each month at Orenco Station Grill along with her father, Mike Horsfall.

After a recent performance with friend Cameron Derik Morgan, she reminisced that in the past, there were restaurants dotting the map that provided music with dinner. “They were like Starbucks on every corner, musicians of all different styles. There were bigger venues and there were more national acts,” Horsfall said.

“People became less appreciative of the music. They were tied into phones and sometimes took the music in front of them for granted,” Morgan said.

“Jazz is created on the spot,” he added.

Customers at the restaurant seem to enjoy the atmosphere created by the groups, and many come by just to hear certain performers. They fill out comment cards pointing out the musicians, and many diners enjoy speaking to the musicians during their breaks.

Marianna Thielen, lead singer for The Bylines, a group that specializes in jazz-pop, speaks highly of her business relationship with Hillis. A music major in college, Thielen and her husband, Reece Marshburn have been playing in the restaurant on the second, third and fourth Wednesdays for nearly four years.

Thielen enjoys working with Hillis, who she says is “super responsive. He’s a sweet, kind-hearted person who treats the performers and staff well. We enjoy being there, not just as a job, but to see the regulars [customers] and eat the food.”

Thielen says that venues that provide music seem to thrive. “Places hiring us to do music are doing well enough that the businesses are growing,” she said.

Seafood and steak selections are the stars of the menu at Orenco Station Grill, which includes breads and desserts made from scratch onsite. A bountiful wine list includes many local wines.

Much like good food satisfies the stomach, good jazz satisfies the soul.

As she packs up her instruments for the evening, Horsfall’s eyes sparkle and says she knows it’s been a successful evening “when you leave the venue smiling.”