Restaurant returns to its river roots after fire

Nine months after a fire forced Foodies from its downtown Kennewick space, the restaurant has been reborn in a new riverfront location where it can seat twice as many people.  

“It wasn’t a sad thing,” said owner Joanna Wilson of the closure of the former Foodies on West Kennewick Avenue.

She’s leasing a space owned by the city of Kennewick at 2701 Paul Parish Drive, next to the city’s golf course in Columbia Park, west of the hydroplane pits. It has an unobstructed river view for events like Water Follies, the River of Fire and this month’s Lighted Boat Parade.

Since first launching Foodies in 2014 as a roving kitchen on a pontoon boat, the restaurant has anchored itself as a Tri-City favorite.

The night before the February 2022 blaze at the Cascade Building behind Foodies, Wilson had laid out dry erase boards with the intention of brainstorming potential changes for the restaurant at 308 W. Kennewick Ave.

She felt the success of the Foodies expansion to 701 The Parkway in Richland had come on the back of the original Foodies, its first brick and mortar location.

“It was one of those things where the heart wasn’t there, and we were so focused on getting Richland up and successful, that it really took a toll, at least it did in my vision,” she said.

Wilson started contemplating capital improvements, maintenance issues and future expectations for each location.

“It literally was, ‘Where are we headed?’ It was kind of one of those heartfelt moments. And then at 6 in the morning, my mom called, and my phone started blowing up, and it was, ‘Get down there,’ ” she said.

Fire damage

Wilson could only stand by and watch as extensive smoke and water from the fire destroyed Foodies’ interior, forcing its immediate closure.

A number of items were salvaged with the help of a restoration company. This included the tables and chairs, already in use at the new Foodies on the river, which opened in mid-October.

Wilson just needed to add a few supplemental tables and chairs to bring the restaurant to its full capacity of 100, not including covered, outdoor tables available seasonally. Some natural wood tables also mimic the feel of the Richland location.

The 15 part-time and full-time staffers at Foodies Kennewick include a few who have worked at at least one of the restaurant’s locations, whether in Richland, former Kennewick site or Foodies on the Go food truck that opened in the spring.

Employees are training to prepare for extended hours and future plans to offer breakfast on weekends in Kennewick, targeted at golfers.

No one was laid off after the February fire.

Instead, everyone was offered a position at Foodies Richland, and the eatery expanded hours to stay open seven days a week.

“It allowed us to refocus and send all of our efforts to Richland, not worry about the future; not worry about anything,” Wilson said.

A riverfront home

Wilson never expected to reopen her downtown Kennewick location.

“That died in the fire,” she said.

She had been on the hunt for a new venue, but nothing fit the intended vibe, especially the slew of strip mall spaces she was pitched weekly.

Wilson was in Hawaii in late summer when she got a call from the city that the Columbia Park lease was available. It was a bit of repeating kismet, as she was in the same spot in Hawaii back in 2017 when she learned 701 The Parkway was available after Paper Street Brewing departed for Pasco.

She followed through with her own due diligence as a small business owner before committing to the deal, but it’s hard to turn down a rare opportunity for riverfront property.

“Where am I going to be on the river in the Tri-Cities? It’s just not going to happen,” she said.

The restaurateur is thrilled with the public-private partnership and having Kennewick as her landlord.

The city stepped in when Foodies was stalled in receiving its liquor license from the state, as Kennewick now has a vested interest in the restaurant’s success.

“It’s just been great to be able to have that support that a typical small business doesn’t have,” she said. “(The city of Kennewick) has really just opened the doors to us and allowed us to make it ours.”

The layout of the building is the same as with the previous tenant, which includes a small space for city staffers to serve Columbia Park Golf Tri-Plex customers, ringing up sales for the par 3 golf course, disc golf or foot golf.

Foodies put its own touches on the rectangular building by warming up the interior lighting, adding slate and natural wood accents, moving in more kitchen equipment, and incorporating the former exterior marquee to hang above the fireplace.

An expanded window to the kitchen includes food warming lights, a larger counter and bar area.

“It allowed us to be able to extend the kitchen, and that’s what I wanted with the bar we created – to have somewhere you could sit and watch. It’s kind of part of the entertainment to be involved in the kitchen. We can talk to you and chat, so it isn’t just a bar,” she said.

The freestanding building along Columbia Park Trail previously housed Bite at the Landing, which opened in fall 2019 by the Simmons family of C.G. Public House and Catering. It stopped serving in mid-September and vacated by the end of the month.

Without holding a formal grand opening, the Columbia Park reception for Foodies has been just as Wilson hoped.

“People are trickling in, and it’s been perfect. It might feel slow for my staff, but it’s been healthy,” she said.

The restaurant only takes reservations for parties of 10 or more and had received many inquiries leading up to the Lighted Boat Parade, held the first weekend in December.

The restaurant owner credits her staff for Foodies’ success.

“They take ownership. I think they see I’m passionate about what I’m doing and I care about their employment, and it’s not just a job for me, so it’s not just a job for them. When they know they have the support of the owner and I will bend over backwards to take care of them, I think there’s a different culture that our guests see and want to be a part of,” she said.

But of course, there’s also the food, including a variety of popular favorites like burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and salads.

The menu remains the same, but the staff is empowered to contribute to the “fresh sheet” with rotating quarterly specials.

“I want that to be very consistent, so we’re not changing our menu every month. We’re not doing crazy, wild things. We’re just creating comfortable food that people are familiar with, but has our own twist on it,” Wilson said.

The restaurant has a “rule of three” that requires every ingredient, from spices to sauces, to be used in at least three menu items before it’s kept in the inventory. This has been an important rule with supply chain issues post-pandemic.

Foodies on the Go truck

The Foodies on the Go food truck spent the summer at a Port of Benton lot near Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, filling the location once held by Kindra’s Wok ’N Roll, and using the same truck following an update and rewrapping.

Wilson may use the truck as a mobile billboard over the winter but doesn’t intend to return to the same spot next year. Foodies on the Go will be used for catering and events exclusively.

She likes the flexibility of not being tied down to a lease with the truck, but still having that contingency plan in the event restaurants are once again limited to takeout only, with food losing its luster while being transported offsite.

“No one’s food is good to-go, right? It just isn’t. Maybe Subway,” she said. “Hot fried food just isn’t as good. That’s not what our restaurants are meant to do. Having the food truck allows me to be in that market. I’m not tied to any kind of contract. And I could go anywhere I’m licensed, so that takes me from Prosser to Othello to Walla Walla.”

Will there ever be a Foodies Pasco? Never say never, Wilson said.

“I think maybe I need to just spend some more time and go to some chamber meetings and city council meetings. I really like the downtown and I think there is some movement there.”

Foodies Kennewick is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Foodies Richland is open seven days a week, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Wilson said she expected Foodies Kennewick’s hours to match Richland’s by the end of the year, once new workers are trained.

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