Retirement prompts owners to sell Cedars Restaurant

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Dave Mitcham has been in the restaurant business for 45 years.

He says that’s enough.

Mitcham and his wife, Darci, have put Cedars Restaurant on the market after owning it for 11 years.

The asking price for their waterfront restaurant on Kennewick’s Clover Island Inn is $2.62 million.

Rob Ellsworth and Scott Sautell of SVN/Retter & Company are handling the sale.

The Mitchams, who said they received a lot of interest from potential buyers, started thinking about an exit strategy a few years ago.

“I wanted to get out about the time I turned 60,” said Dave Mitcham, who turns 62 this year and is a few years behind his goal. “My friends wonder how in the hell I’ve stayed in the restaurant business all of these years. I’ve done every position in this place. Darci is the office manager. (The restaurant business) is what I know.”

Cedars is in the 12th year of a 35-year land lease with the Port of Kennewick. It sits on nearly a third of an acre with views of the Columbia River and cable bridge.

The 8,600-square-foot restaurant was built in 1977. It was renovated in 1999 after a dumpster fire caused smoke and water damage.

The renovation, which included work to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, cost $2.25 million.

Dave Mitcham grew up in the restaurant industry. He began working in a small north Idaho restaurant when he was 13 years old.

At 15, he worked at Cedars Floating Restaurant in Coeur d’Alene as a dishwasher.

Ray Gillett, who owned six different Cedars restaurants at the time, kept moving him up the ladder into different positions, including cook, until finally sending the teen to the new Kennewick restaurant to be the kitchen manager in 1975.

“(The Kennewick Cedars) was the last one he owned,” Dave Mitcham said.

By 1983, Mitcham said, his boss had set up a profit-sharing program. He took his annual profit-sharing check and invested it for the next 20 years.

In January 2006, the Mitchams bought their partner out and owned Cedars outright.

He credits local banker, Rick Peenstra of Community First Bank, for taking a chance and loaning them the money.

“He helped me out, and the rest is history,” he said.

Dave Mitcham said Cedars is a well-oiled machine. “This place is turn-key,” he said.

A lot of that is thanks to his 43 workers.

“I’ve got awesome employees,” he said. “Some have been with me for over 20-plus years. I also have a number of employees who have been with me for eight to 10 years. They like working here because it’s a friendly-family atmosphere, and they make good money.”

He hopes whoever buys Cedars will keep all his staff.

“My main concern is the employees,” he said. “Many of us have a close relationship. I’ve watched their families grow.”

The strong employee base contributed to Cedars’ success over the years, he said.

The average restaurant’s life span barely exceeds five years, with 90 percent of independently-owned restaurants closing down within the first year, according to Restaurantbrokers.com.

At Cedars, besides strong employees and ownership, the restaurant has a loyal clientele, who come by either land or water. The restaurant has a dock where as many as 18 boats can tie up for dining on the two different decks and watch Tri-City sunsets, or venture inside to the large dining room and bar.

“Families from out of town come here,” Dave Mitcham said. “People with anniversaries and birthdays come here. There are specific customers who I never see in the winter. But when the deck opens up, I will see them twice a week.

“Then there are other customers who come in the winter who want to sit by the big fireplace (inside),” he said.

Meeting and interacting with customers will be one thing Dave Mitcham will miss when he retires.

“I’ve met so many thousands of people,” he said. “Some of my best customers in the 1970s have brought their children here, and then brought their grandchildren here. A lot of them call me Grandpa Dave. I have hundreds of them here that do that.”

He’ll also miss eating the food at Cedars.

“I’ve eaten a lot of dinners here — sometimes five nights a week,” he said.

Whoever buys the restaurant will benefit from a good relationship with the Port of Kennewick, Dave Mitcham said.

“I can’t stress enough what the port is doing with this island,” he said. “This group of commissioners is the best I’ve ever worked with. There has been great business traffic on this island.”

The feeling seems to be mutual. The port named the restaurant owners as the 2016 Friend of the Port. They were recognized for their tenacity, efforts to help transform Clover Island and diligence in making Cedars a community landmark water destination.

The Columbia Gardens Wine Village under construction on nearby Columbia Drive is also expected to increase traffic to Clover Island.

If Dave Mitcham has any regrets, there are just a couple.

“I’ve had 45 years in the restaurant business. But I just didn’t have the energy anymore to do two things: a lunch program and … building to the west side of the property a special events center,” he said.

Cedars serves only dinner, from 5 to 10 p.m.

“This place needs to do lunch,” he said. “We do all of our business on five hours a night. My hope is someone will come in here and open up for lunch. I could see someone doubling their income doing that.”

Mitcham said he’s had to turn down wedding parties because he can’t accommodate them. An events center would change that.

“I think a 40- to 50-seat events center could be built on the west side,” he said.

But that will be the new owners’ decision.

“This is the first time I’m being aggressive about selling this,” Dave Mitcham said. “I want to sell it to people I’m real comfortable with. This place is an icon. People have a good time here. I’m hoping to get out at 62. But if I have to, I’m waiting to get it done by 65.”

Then it’s time to retire.

“It’s been a great run. And we’ve made a great living off of the place,” he said. “I want to retire while I’m young enough that I have energy, to enjoy our grandkids, and travel. I want to do some volunteer work. We have a cabin up in the Blue Mountains, and my son lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.”

Mitcham said he looks forward to mastering a new skill when he retires.

“I’m high energy,” he said. “I’d like to start learning how to relax.”

Jeffrey Morrow

Jeffrey Morrow

Jeff Morrow retired from the Tri-City Herald in 2015. Jeff spent 30 years on the Herald’s sports staff, including the last 19 as the sports editor. Although he likes to write, Jeff still finds time to travel, golf and take care of his family’s three dogs. He and his wife of 31 years, Connie, have two adult daughters.

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