Kyle and Becky Thornhill have been riding a wave toward a building of their own since launching Tsunami Catering in January 2018.
And despite setbacks – some temporary, some longer – it’s been a great ride.
“For me, I get excited because it’s connecting with people through food,” Kyle said.
Becky likes being creative – take a look sometime at her food boards.
“And it’s about designing and working beside my best friend,” she said.
In early May, the couple had a ribbon-cutting ceremony at their new shop at Marineland Plaza on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick.
They moved from Red Mountain Kitchen in downtown Kennewick, where they shared a kitchen commissary with a number of other businesses.
It’s been a dream come true.
The couple got married about five years ago, and were living in the Napa Valley in California.
Kyle was working as an executive chef.
He trained under talented chefs and restaurant owners Cindy Paulson, Thomas Keller and Bob Turley, before being named executive chef for Platt Productions.
It was a role that included events with Robert Mondavi Winery’s Sutter Homes.
Kyle was also the executive chef for Mills College and the Oakland Raiders.
“The rider was simple,” Kyle said of the Raiders’ gig. “Provide two proteins a meal and make it themed. Have an action station with a lot of cold-cut sandwiches. And have 20 gallons of ice cream available. It was close to 200 people a day, four to five days a week.”
He did this for three years with the Raiders before the team moved to Las Vegas.
OK, so maybe that wasn’t elaborate or complex, but it did help him gain experience in serving a large group of people on a daily basis.
Becky, meanwhile, traveled a more diverse path. She organized expedition events to the Grand Canyon and Greater Northwest regions and worked in private property management, customer relations, and business management.
But she said her greatest joy is working alongside Kyle in the kitchen, cooking and creating.
Kyle’s brother, who lives in Walla Walla, convinced the couple to move north, where decent housing didn’t cost an arm and a leg like it does in Napa Valley.
The Thornhills did so with an idea: create a catering company.
The restaurant business can be a daily grind and why the Thornhills wanted no part of it.
“We knew we didn’t want (one),” Kyle said.
Becky interjected, “We like traveling.”
Every year, the couple blocks out dates on the calendar to do so. Then they use the rest of their dates to plan catering events.
“Catering is a hustle,” Kyle said. “There are so many details on the hospitality part.”
And it turns out, even when they travel, they end up doing a lot of tasting, looking for new combinations of flavors they can use in their own kitchen.
All of that turned into magic in the Red Mountain Kitchen, and they were starting to get a strong local following.
“We do our fair share of weddings,” Kyle said. “But we also get good business from WSU and CBC. Last summer, we catered to the entertainment at the county fair, serving Pat Benatar and her band, as well as Styx.”
It hasn’t been easy, though.
Earlier this year, Kyle looked out the front window of their new Clearwater store and watched two guys break in and steal the couple’s catering van.
“I was on the phone with the police as they were doing it,” he said. “They were found a couple hours later. Police said they were from Seattle and were trying to strip it and sell the parts.”
The van was damaged but still usable.
Before that, there was the Covid-19 pandemic that could have easily knocked their business plan for a loop.
How did they survive?
“We did a lot of take-and-bake lasagnas,” Kyle said. “A lot of people bought lasagna from us. The cancer center bought a bunch. A bunch of church-goers purchased a number.”
They created take-home Thanksgiving meals in November and crafted candy to sell in December.
“And we did box dinners for weddings,” Becky said. “You have to keep going. Never give up.”
In other words, the community stepped up for them.
There’s a good reason for that: their food works. And in the Mid-Columbia, there are plenty of opportunities to use local ingredients.
“We do get a lot of local foods, from places such as Middleton Farms. We pick our own blueberries out in Burbank. We have a great blueberry lemonade,” said Becky.
Tsunami’s website has five menus for customers to choose from. But the Thornhills are constantly changing and updating them.
“Rates can vary,” Kyle said. “Some weddings packages can vary from $19.99 per person to $36 per person. Holiday menus, the prices will go up. And all the time, we’re changing the menu.”
Using a kitchen commissary owned by someone else can be a double-edged sword. You have the ability to use it to make food, but you might have to share the kitchen with other companies. And your time might be too limited.
The Thornhills spent the past two years looking for their own space.
It finally happened last fall.
“I found out from the owners at Village Bistro that Fresh Out the Box was closing down. I immediately went over and dropped off my card,” Kyle said. “That was last July.”
But it wasn’t until September that they got the OK. And they finally opened in May.
Since then, things have really started to pick up.
“We hired an office administrator the last 30 days,” Becky said. “She has the background, and she sees the details.”
“It’s a family business,” added Kyle. “Our kids run the payroll.”
What they now need is more employees.
“We have 10 people on the payroll,” said Becky. “It was up to 20 at one time. We still need 20. But we’ve got to be picky.”
That’s because an employee has to give up weekends to work. Most catering gigs are Fridays and Saturdays.
But the Thornhills will be right beside those employees, getting their hands dirty, too.
“Our philosophy is we expect to work harder than any of our employees,” Becky said. “He’s the master chef. I’m the creative help.”
That creative help includes doing some cooking classes in the near future, having an open house on July 7 and turning their facility into an event center.
But above all else, it’s about the food.
That’s Tsunami’s philosophy: “Put the food first, and do it with love.”
Tsunami Catering: 5215 W. Clearwater Ave., Suite 102, Kennewick; 509-301-8441; tsunamicatering.com.
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