Longtime Kennewick restaurant sheds old look, name for urban feel
Country Gentleman remodels interior, changes name to CG Public House
CG Public House and Catering in Kennewick has seen an upswing in hungry customers despite experiencing the worst winter weather in recent memory, resulting in a 25 percent increase in profits over the same period last year.
The owners credit the upswing to the restaurant’s rebranding after a two-week hiatus in early January.
The temporary closure was anything but quiet, as work buzzed non-stop on an interior remodel of the building at 9221 W. Clearwater Ave. in Kennewick.
“We hired local companies to do all of the work. It was kind of like one of the reality TV shows where someone had two days to get a big job done and then another company had three days,” laughed Shirley Simmons, co-owner with husband, Steve Simmons. “Everything fell together very smoothly and quickly,” so much so that it re-opened two days ahead of schedule.
The restaurant was originally opened as Wyatt’s Pancake Corral by Simmons’ parents in 1978. Her sister and brother-in-law, Marge and Gerald VanZuyen, eventually bought it and renamed it Country Gentleman. Then, in 1996, the Simmonses purchased it, launching the catering arm of the business in 1997.
With the help of son Kyle Simmons, who earned a degree in hospitality from Washington State University and who will eventually buy the restaurant, Shirley Simmons decided a rebranding was in order.
“Kyle really wanted the restaurant to have a more urban look and to move away from what he considered ‘old-fashioned and grandmotherly,’ ” she said. So the new eatery moved to darker colors, wood-planked walls, a black ceiling and industrial elements.
“The (American Viticultural Area) wall (highlighting the areas wine-producing regions) was done by a local gentleman and is the biggest he’s ever done. The directional signs to points of interest in the community have been big conversation pieces,” Shirley Simmons said. “We’ve already come up with more signs – Jump Off Joe, the Benton County Fairgrounds and Water Follies pits – to add later.”
The restaurant attracts a multitude of visitors driving through the area on Interstate 82, so highlighting points of interest hopefully will entice them to stay in town to explore, Shirley Simmons said.
Along with the new look is a new moniker — CG Public House
“A lot of people called us CG and would say, ‘Let’s meet at CG,’ and the catering email has always been cgcatering.com so we felt it would be an easy transition,” Shirley Simmons said. The menu also received a facelift, with several Southern flair dishes added.
“We took a hard look at what was being offered in some of our favorite Southern Portland-area restaurants,” Shirley Simmons said. “We don’t have a Southern restaurant here in the Tri-Cities and we didn’t want to be completely that. But we chose to add items that work well with what we already have. We kept our customers’ favorites — chicken fried steak, biscuits and gravy — and most of our other dishes.”
The new additions include shrimp n’ grits, homemade pot pies, fried green tomatoes and macaroni and cheese, among others.
“We offer some fun new things, all of which have been well received. We took the navy bean soup off the menu. It was really scary because when you have people coming in and ordering the same soup recipe for 38 years, you aren’t sure what to expect,” she said.
The soup was replaced with a chicken and andouille gumbo, which has been “very well received,” Shirley Simmons said. Two soups are now offered every day, instead of a different soup each day of the week.
It seems the stars have aligned and the addition of Southern flair was meant to be. This year’s National Catering Convention, which is consistently held in Las Vegas, Nevada, will be in New Orleans next month.
“Kyle and I will be going. It’s so cool and (the venue change) couldn’t have happened at a better time. We are excited to see the Cajun, Southern foods and look forward to bringing something back for the spring menu,” she said.
Along with the rebranding, an all-new “prospect menu” has been added as an addition to the regular menu.
“We include items we’d like to try on customers before we permanently place them on the menu,” Shirley Simmons said. “The fried green tomato BLT sandwich is on there and it’s tasty. It will definitely be moved to the full-time menu based on customer feedback.”
As always, restaurant staff are happy to accommodate special requests.
“If we have the product, we’ll make it for you, even if it isn’t on the menu,” Shirley Simmons said, referring to grilled cheese sandwiches, BLTs and other commonly requested foods.
The Beer Falls area in the restaurant, named after a nostalgic teen hangout formerly behind Basin Feed, offers a place for friends to gather, Shirley Simmons said. Recent changes include adding four taps, which took the total to eight. Seven are designated for specific local breweries, which seasonally change their offerings.
“The beer sales have really increased, as have the craft cocktails. We make all of our own sour mix and people appreciate that,” Shirley Simmons said. The 4 to 6 p.m. happy hour has been a hit, with half off appetizers, and the bottomless mimosas served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday also have been popular.
More change will come in the future, as ownership will pass along to the third generation. The entrepreneurial couple have four children, and though all worked in the restaurant as teenagers, the youngest is the only one to show interest in continuing the family legacy.
“Kyle is in line to purchase the business and he is managing all of the departments right now,” Shirley Simmons said. “For a small business, we’re big. He needs to be prepared when I say that I’ll completely be gone. When I bought the business, my sister was quietly there for a couple years. She’s still there; she’s one of my best customers because she comes in every day. And she’s always been our cheering squad.”
But Shirley Simmons said she’s too young to retire yet.
“I’ll work at least five more years, mostly on the catering side. It’s really my passion. I really like to help a bride get married; I like to feed 4,000 to 5,000 people at a picnic,” she said.
Changes to the CG Catering arm included the delivery vans wrapped with more streamlined, straight lines, the new logo and colors of black, gray, blue and silver. The bustle of the catering department will more than likely continue.
CG catered 2,300 small and large jobs in 2016, serving 135,699 guests. Despite being closed for two weeks in January, business had increased by 39 percent over January 2016, with the trend continuing into February and beyond.
“The name ‘Country Gentleman’ hurt us at times through the years because it sounded ma and pa to some people,” Simmons said. “Some brides didn’t want their weddings catered by us because of the name. It’s all in the marketing; people have commented on how much they love the logo and name.”
Almost a month into the rebrand, it certainly seems revitalizing the name and look of the restaurant is paying big dividends.
“The feedback has all been positive so far. We love the Tri-Cities and are so happy for the support of our patrons,” Simmons said. “As long as this building stands, it’ll probably be a family member with this restaurant.”