Food that Finds Family: Bistro 1605

Alexandria Coombs, owner of Bistro 1605, a restaurant in High Point, NC sits at a table with a bowl of soup.

Alexandria Coombs stops mid-sentence to stand up and hug a customer on his way out the door. The two older gentlemen who have just finished lunch at Bistro 1605 smile and chat with the owner, Alexandria, as she asks them questions that only a friend would know to ask.  

“Tell the girls I said hello!” Alexandria calls after the gentlemen about their wives as they exit the restaurant. The interaction isn’t out of the norm at Bistro 1605. In fact, it’s almost impossible to enjoy one of their delicious lunch menu options and not share this kind of interaction with Alexandria, her daughter Alesha Papay, or any of the other team members at the restaurant.

Guest after guest filters in and out of Bistro 1605 through the lunch rush, and team members hustle to serve up extravagant strawberry salads, beloved “Kickin Chicken” chicken salad sandwiches, and steaming cups of tomato bisque soup. And while empty plates are cleared from the tables – a testament to how much everyone enjoys the culinary feats at Bistro 1605 – the dining room is full of laughter, hugs, and conversations, not just between customers but between customers and staff.    

Plates of soup, salad, and sandwich at Bistro 1605, a restaurant that's a great where to eat in High Point, NC.

And at the center of it all – the perfectly crafted sandwiches and the personality-filled conversations – is Alexandria. Because for Alexandria, food has always been a means to an end: creating found family.

“My mother passed away when I was two years old,” Pennsylvania native Alexandria explains. “So I learned how to make ‘bonus family.’”  

Between her entrepreneurial father who owned the Catasauqua Sportsman’s Club, and a couple, Albert and Grace Walp, who lived on her father’s property and helped raise her, Alexandria was taught at a young age about the beauty of chosen family and good food. Her adopted grandmother, Mrs. Walp ("Gomie"), would let little Alexandria stand on a step stool and help wash carrots and potatoes in the kitchen of the Catasauqua Sportsman’s Club. Alexandria jokes that from her playpen she was learning about the ins and outs of a working kitchen.  

A young Alexandria growing up in Catasauqua, PA.
A young Alexandria growing up in Catasauqua, PA.
(From L to R): Alexandria's father, Alexander H. Coombs Jr., her "bonus mother," Joan Frebern Coombs, Albert Walp and Grace Walp.
(From L to R): Alexandria's father, Alexander H. Coombs Jr., her "bonus mother," Joan Frebern Coombs, Albert Walp and Grace Walp.
Alexandria Coombs supports a wait staff member who is serving customers at Bistro 1605.

As she grew up, she began to see the respect a working kitchen demanded. And her hand's-on experience inspired within her a love of making delicious food. Eventually, she went on to work in the hospitality industry, managing everything from clubs to events to private catering, but her appreciation for the “back of the house” (the kitchen) portion of restaurants ran deep.  

“The glamorous part is up here,” Alexandria says, gesturing to the bustling restaurant, “but the back of the house is what creates this.”   

It wasn’t until Alexandria began visiting High Point to care for her ailing “bonus mother,” (her father’s second wife), that she got the opportunity to actually pursue her dream of owning a restaurant. After meeting people in High Point, forming friendships with the community, and starting to appreciate the slower pace of life in the south, Alexandria decided to transition to living in High Point full-time. And in 2011, after making the move, Alexandria decided to put off early retirement to take the opportunity to buy Hamilton Street Bistro.  

Tomato bisque soup is a favorite at Bistro 1605 in High Point, NC.

And while the restaurant had been in decline, Alexandria knew she had what it would take to turn it around. 

“I don’t do hurdles,” she says very matter-of-factly. Instead she believed in the best tool she had at her disposal: her own attitude.  

“How you treat people is really the biggest thing,” Alexandria says, and from the start, she purposed that Hamilton Street Bistro would be known as a place with exceptional hospitality, as well as exceptional food.  

“Hospitality is what’s lacking in this business nowadays,” Alexandria explains, “and it’s all in the details.” 

That’s why at her restaurant, Alexandria makes sure that every patron is greeted when they walk in, escorted to their table, and listened to by the wait staff. She says instead of hiring for experience, she built her team based off of individuals who exhibit personality, warmth, and problem-solving skills.  

“You can’t teach those things,” she says. But what they do teach at Alexandria’s restaurant is everything else. They cross train every employee to know how to work in the front and back of the house, providing their staff with culinary skills as well as interpersonal, hospitality skills. And on any given day in the kitchen, Alexandria or her daughter, Alesha, are in the back supervising production to make sure the bistro’s products maintain the same quality of excellence.  

Alexandria Coombs stands behind her daughter, Alesha Papay at Bistro 1605.
Alexandria Coombs stands behind her daughter, Alesha Papay
The staff sits at the bar at High Point, NC restaurant, Bistro 1605.
The staff at Bistro 1605

Even more so, Alexandria committed to making their staff environment a “non-toxic zone,” noting that it’s become too often the norm for the restaurant industry to be full of backbiting and bullying. But that would go against everything that Alexandria believes about food and food service.  

“Food is love,” she muses. “It’s family. It’s that bond that only food can create for you.”   

And she says it’s food that leads strangers to become friends and friends to become family members. For Alexandria’s part, her own family moved to be part of the bistro. Her daughter, Alesha and her family, including some of Alexandria’s beloved grandkids, also made the transition to High Point.  

“She put the pressure on me!” Alesha teases her mom. The two women are more than mother and daughter, more than restaurant co-workers; they’re best friends. Alesha admits that she and her husband also fell in love with High Point and the opportunities it would give them in raising their family. And just like her growing family – both her biological family and the friends she was quickly gathering at Hamilton Street Bistro – Alexandria’s restaurant soon outgrew the space on Hamilton Street. When the lease was no longer available to renew, Alexandria and Alesha began keeping their eyes open for new options for a location.  

“Food is love. It’s family. It’s that bond that only food can create for you.”   

Alexandria Coombs, Owner of Bistro 1605

When Alexandria saw the location at 1605 N. Main Street was available, she told Alesha it would be a perfect fit – a part of the growing N. Main “restaurant row” that includes everything from Sweet Old Bill’s, to Frady’s Taphouse to Blue Rock Pizza, and more.  

“I saw the sign on Thursday and called the realtor, Wayne Mabe,” Alexandria recalls. And while Wayne originally said the space wouldn’t be available for them, Alexandria got another call on the following Tuesday.  

“‘Alexandria, do you know Pat Mabe?’” Alexandria remembers Wayne asking her. “‘Yes sir, she's a customer of mine, a nice lady.’ I said. ‘Well she’s also my wife!’ Wayne said.”  

Alexandria laughs remembering the conversation. When Wayne told his wife, Pat, about the call he had with Alexandria that week, Pat said: “The Alexandria? You’d be a fool not to put them in there. They’re the hardest working ladies in High Point!”  

“It's about reputation,” Alexandria says, “and a good girlfriend!”  

And reputation surely proceeds Bistro 1605, as their customers made the trek from Hamilton Street to N. Main Street easily with the promise of their delicious, fresh dishes on the menu. Alexandria says while there is no one specific style on the Bistro 1605 menu, she was inspired by growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and brings many of the same comforting flavors into her menu. But she also makes sure to have seasonal dishes that leverage fresh products. And as a nod to the family that she loves so dearly, all of her grandchildren’s names are incorporated into the menu items.  

Alexandria leans out of the door of her restaurant, Bistro 1605 in High Point, NC.
A menu from Bistro 1605 lays on a table with a sandwich and salad from a restaurant where to eat in High Point, NC.

Because in the years since Alexandria first opened the doors on her first restaurant, it’s the relationships that have made her so successful. She and Alesha make it a point to keep close tabs on their customers. They’ve sent soups to regulars undergoing cancer treatment at Hayworth Cancer Center, taken in pets from regulars who have passed away, and even worked as private chefs on family vacations for customers. They’ve earned a reputation as beloved caters in High Point, and partner with businesses across the city to elevate other local culinary and retail talents – from Uncle Cheesecake to Paddled South Brewing Co., to The Cottage.  

At the end of the day, however, Alexandria can easily point to her proudest moment. She was invited to speak and receive a reward at High Point University. She laughs, remembering how she planned to “wing” the speech. 

“I talk to people every single day of my life,” Alexandria teased Alesha, as Alesha pushed her mom to prepare her remarks. “This will be easy!”  

Alesha stands holding the hand of a customer at Bistro 1605 in High Point, NC.
Alexandria serves soup to a patron, Daniel Grey from Uncle Cheesecake in High Point, NC.

Alexandria admits now with a chuckle that stepping onto the stage and seeing the entire audience after her introduction from Dr. Qubein, she did experience a momentary bout of stage fright. But then she began to catch the eye of audience members – and recognize some familiar faces: her customers.  

“I see a lot of familiar faces,” Alexandria said to the audience. “Are you coming for Kickin' Chicken today afterwards?”  

She laughs, remembering the moment. But her moment of pride didn’t come from her time to share her story with a captive audience or even receiving the award from the university. Her pride came from knowing that out in her audience sat Alesha and Alesha’s son, Camren, Alexandria’s oldest grandchild.  

“Camren used to think I was famous because he would come into the restaurant and see me talking to everyone,” Alexandria says, her voice heavy with emotion. “I wanted Camren to see that day, if you have a dream and you want it badly enough – and you work, you're honest, and you just keep plugging along – you can do anything.”  

Alexandria laughs with customers at her restaurant in High Point, NC.

Dr. Qubein invited Camren on the stage to present his grandmother her award, and Alexandria says the moment stands out to her as she thinks about that little girl she was growing up in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania with almost no family. Now, her “bonus family” is overflowing with the people she’s met in High Point – all thanks to a little hard work and delicious food.  

“Your family is the basis of everything," she concludes. “Whether it's the one that you're born into or the one that you build on your own. Family is what brings it all together.” 

Photography by Anna Danielle Photography

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