As Tumbleweeds prepares to open a new restaurant in West Richland, it also is trying to figure out the fate of its Richland restaurant as the end of its 10-year lease approaches.
“Our destiny at our current location is, safe to say, uncertain,” said Keith Moon, owner of Tumbleweeds Mexican Flair at 894 Stevens Drive in Richland.
He expects the new West Richland restaurant to open in February in the building once home to the Tri-Cities’ original Chicken Shack and its neighbor, Wine Notes. He got the keys Dec. 1.
Moon said the aging Richland restaurant needs an overhaul. “We have some impasses with our current landlord in regards to updates, remodeling, negotiations and things we can’t seem to come in alignment with,” he said. “We’re operating on a 10-year lease that started in 2014. Those signs were clear about two years ago where it was like, ‘If offered a new lease, would we re-sign?”
This led Moon to consider all his options, including whether he or someone else were to buy the Richland building. His family has owned Tumbleweeds for 23 years. He and his wife Jane bought it from his mother, Eve Moon, in 2014.
Moon believes his fast-serve restaurant needs $400,000 to $700,000 in improvements to serve customers effectively. An extensive remodel likely would require an eight-month closure of the 52-year-old building.
“It’s basically a brand-new build,” Moon said. “All the plumbing needs to be redone. The building needs to be reworked; the bathrooms need to come inside, the drive-thru needs to get fixed, the parking lot needs to be repaved. The sidewalks are crumbling. We have plumbing issues that are evidence of a deteriorating infrastructure here.”
As part of his efforts to seek financing for a remodel or purchase, Moon debuted a food truck in March 2023, expecting it could serve customers during a potential restaurant closure.
“We decided it doesn’t hurt us to do the food truck thing because it gives us options. Option one, we have an opportunity to make income during a downime, and this is an option banks seem to accept. Option two, if we never do a remodel, at least we have another revenue wing, and we can expand our services, and yet our future is uncertain. But at the end of the day, we’ve got something here. So even if, in the worst-case scenario we had to close, we still have a food truck,” he said.
With a year until his Richland lease expires, “we’ve got a food truck in our arsenal and the world at our fingertips,” Moon said.
Wanting to be proactive, Moon’s plans include establishing a restaurant in West Richland, hoping to get it off the ground quickly so it can “stand alone on its own.” He’s already signed a five-year lease at 4390 W. Van Giesen St.
Tumbleweeds has long had interest in the location, once making an announcement in 2018 that it planned to expand there before walking back the plan.
“When the dust settles, we will either have two locations, or we will have one. But no option on the table now has us having none,” Moon said. “It didn’t behoove us to try to get out of (the Richland) lease earlier because there’s still the option our landlord could sell the building, in which case that’s great. I have new options with new owners.”
Moon said it’s possible new owners could be aggressive in making the improvements the building needs to keep him in another long-term lease. “Or, it might be sold to somebody who wants to own and operate their own business out of it, in which case my story ends. But in any event, all of these options are better than one option, ending with having just a food truck,” he said.
The Stevens Drive building is owned by MKC LLC, based in Federal Way. Attempts to contact the property owner for comment were unsuccessful.
Moon has had his ear to the ground looking for alternatives for a while, including considering the east Kennewick restaurant once home to Taco John’s, which closed earlier this year.
“It would have worked perfectly. But the schematics of how that lease was situated and arranged were just outside of my comfort zone,” Moon said.
What the public didn’t know was that Moon had already signed a non-disclosure agreement to explore leasing the West Richland building.
“We can kind of fit our operations into the footprint there with little tenant improvements, just some new equipment and a little redesign of our operations,” said Moon, who utilized Western Restaurant Supply for the kitchen redesign. “There’s no harm in starting this a year early and just continuing with that if our destiny ends (in Richland). And, if our destiny is to be (in Richland) long-term, there’s no sense in trying to not have two locations if it works. So, we’re just moving forward.”
The West Richland building was home to the Tri-Cities’ first Chicken Shack, which opened in late 2015 before expanding to west Pasco in January 2019. The Pasco location at 8921 Sandifur Parkway remains open.
Steve and Tracy LaMarr licensed their Chicken Shack operation from the founder who opened the first restaurant in Henderson, Nevada. The LaMarrs also own Stonecrest Builders and launched TC Food Force in 2020 as a local competitor to Uber Eats and DoorDash.
They declined to comment about the West Richland closure but a Nov. 11 announcement posted on social media cited “significant challenges in maintaining a consistently high standard of service.”
“We are going back to the basics. Our intention is to train, train and train again to develop a formidable team with an unwavering desire to serve our clientele, provide excellent products and maintain a clean inviting environment. These are the core of the LaMarr Family’s values, and we aim to re-establish them in our new consolidated staff,” the LaMarrs posted, adding that more locations in the Tri-Cities are possible.
Chicken Shack closed its Kennewick restaurant at 3320 W. Kennewick Ave. in October 2021 after just over a year.
As winter sets in, the Tumbleweeds food truck will be parked. Moon plans to use the mobile restaurant with “more intentional efforts” next year.
He said requests for the truck at events fell into their laps, but not all of them were worth the added effort of food prep and staffing.
“We’ve pretty much ironed out the 10 events that we’re going to next year, the ones that we know now, with confidence, are worth it. The ones that we make enough to justify showing up, and we won’t be doing those little services that kept us busy all year so we can focus on West Richland operations and Richland operations,” Moon said.
Additional events may be booked but would require a deposit to have Tumbleweeds meet its minimum sales requirements.
At its peak running both the food truck and Stevens Drive restaurant, Moon had 19 people on the payroll. He’s currently scaled back to 15, but that number is expected to double once the Van Giesen site opens. He expects to hire about eight to 10 full-time employees across both locations.
At 2,400 square feet versus the current restaurant’s 1,500 square feet, the new restaurant will have more seating plus an outdoor space. The Chicken Shack hosted live music there. The LaMarr family’s former wine bar will become an event room, and beer and wine will be offered for the first time, along with chips and salsa.
“It seems subtle, but chips and salsa is something you expect in a Mexican restaurant that we don’t do (in Richland),” Moon said. There may be slightly different menu offerings as well, but it’s still in the planning phase.
Moon expects the dine-in and take-out customers to be split equally in West Richland since the building does not have a drive-thru.
He estimates 60% of the Richland orders are picked up through the window, with the remaining 40% split across takeout and dine-in.
Expecting the new location to be less transient than the current site, Moon is anticipating operating hours to be until 10 p.m. on weekends, whereas the current Tumbleweeds closes at 7 p.m.
Both will operate Monday-Saturday only.
A grand opening is likely March 1 at 4390 W. Van Giesen.
Go to: tumbleweedsmexicanflair.com, @tumbleweedsmexicanflair
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