Owners of Rainier Bar and Grill bringing pizza and pasta to downtown spot
Debra Schweter was showing off plans for the dining space in the former Café Panini building when her husband Jeff grabbed the floor plans. This was in mid-January, when the room was still a great big empty space, save for some power tools, folding tables and two barren soda refrigerators. Every word was an echo, something Debra said she would like to correct with acoustic paneling. She pulled out a wallpaper sample book and pointed out a design called “Tom’s Garden.”
“I think this will be a nice design for the dining area,” Debra said, before directing her attention to another wall. “And for the bar we’ll keep the exposed brick.”
That scene was just part of what goes into the planning of a new restaurant. The Schweters, who also own the Rainier Bar and Grill less than a block away, have spent countless hours setting up a pizza and pasta restaurant they’re calling Jackson’s. Between furniture orders, kitchen orders and juggling all the permits involved in opening a restaurant and bar, they’ve been in the thick of the start-up process.
The opening was originally planned for March 1, but a quick look at the calendar made that seem like a bad idea.
“No, March 1 is a Friday,” Jeff said. “Typically, you don’t want to open on a Friday. It’s a busy day, and you want to start a new operation slowly so you can work out the kinks.”
The Schweters are experienced restaurateurs, but pizza and pasta is a new animal. They did some traveling during the summer of 2012 and discovered the best pizza they had was in, of all places, Costa Rica.
“Every place we went had pizza,” Debra said. “And not just pizza: great pizza.”
“And she means every place,” Jeff said. “You could find a small restaurant operating out of someone’s garage, and they would serve the best pizza you ever had.”
The Schweters decided they wanted to bring that level of quality to a restaurant in Enumclaw.
As noted in a Jan. 30 “Wally’s World” column in The Courier-Herald, the Rainier was just another local watering hole with waning patronage prior to the Schweters’ purchase in 2005. Today, its bar is complemented by family dining with a full menu. It’s not unusual to stop in for dinner at the end of the week and find the place packed.
The Rainier employs 30 people, Debra said: nine in the kitchen and 21 waiting, bartending and bussing tables. Jackson’s will not start out with that many but, as business hopefully picks up to a steady flow of customers, the Schweters said they would like to build up to 30 employees.
A brisk takeout business may help that cause. The Rainier offers grab-and-go ordering, but Jackson’s will have a dedicated takeout storefront — located in the “old” Pie Goddess window facing Griffin Avenue — connected directly to the restaurant kitchen, the counter in front of the baking and pizza prep area.
“Where a lot of people (involved in restaurant start-ups) make a mistake is building their full menu before they know what their kitchen is capable of putting out,” Jeff said. “The kitchen dictates what the menu will be.”
Rainier lead cook Joey Butorac is in the process of creating an eclectic menu, heading into Jackson’s once a week for test kitchen sessions.
“He’s the real deal,” Debra said. “He’s a great asset and we’re lucky to have him out here. He’s part of the family.
“That’s the blessing of a small town: everyone knows each other, customers know the staff and vice versa, and there’s a better connection between the business and the community. We’ve had wonderful support for the Rainier from the people in Enumclaw.”
Experienced owner opening Whitehouse in former home of Mazatlan on 410
“Stepping stones” is the phrase Tim Whitehouse Jr. uses to describe his career as a restaurateur.
Graduating from culinary school would be the first step and managing Myhre’s in Port Orchard was the second. Purchasing small-venue Lumberjack’s in Buckley would the third and buying the slightly larger KC’s Caboose in Sumner would be the fourth — though the latter was also a step backward when it closed due to plumbing problems.
Now, Whitehouse de-scribes his latest venture — building a new restaurant from the ground up in the building that for years housed the Mazatlan restaurant before being occupied for a short time by Andre’s Bar and Grill building — as a leap over several stones at once. It has three times the seating space and three times the staff as Lumberjack’s.
The new venture carries the owner’s last name, to be known as Whitehouse Restaurant and Lounge.
“There’s been a huge learning curve,” Whitehouse said. “The other restaurants I’ve bought were latchkey. They had their equipment in the building, ready to go. There was no equipment here … so I’ve had to design the kitchen line from the ground up.”
Whitehouse got the ball rolling in October, a week after KC’s Caboose closed. He had keys in hand in December and originally set his target opening date for Feb. 1 — though he now says Feb. 15 is a more likely, if still optimistic, goal.
During a recent tour of the building, the interior appeared partially ready. The furniture had been delivered but the kitchen equipment hadn’t arrived. Whitehouse walked through the empty space, stopping periodically to imagine what piece of equipment would fit most logically, and where.
“When you set up the line, you have the place where the empty plate begins, the place where the finished meal ends, and all the science in-between,” he said. “And it’s a matter of space and what you can achieve per square foot. Any restaurant has to look at how many square feet are available in their kitchen, and design it to bring in the max amount of revenue per square foot that they can.”
The menu will be made up of the usual suspects of American family cuisine — burgers, sandwiches, salads and more — with an eye toward quality.
Whitehouse, a trained chef, will be intimately familiar with his kitchen; he’ll be managing the kitchen directly, at least when the restaurant opens.
As the name suggests, Whitehouse Restaurant and Lounge will be a family affair. His mother will be the bar manager, fulfilling a promise from his childhood.
Whitehouse wanted to open a restaurant as early as the age of 12; he recently rediscovered a letter his mother had written him from that time, lauding his goal and promising to work with him in the family business. He said he was happy to have the close tie in the bar, an area of the restaurant business that benefits from a high level of trust.
The restaurant has segregated its bar and general dining areas to comfortably accommodate both night life and meal-only patrons.
The bar will feature darts, pool and skeeball, a game Whitehouse has seen become popular at other drinking establishments.
Whitehouse has been well-occupied preparing his namesake restaurant for a February opening. But even with one eye and both hands on the short-term, he’s keeping his other eye on the future: should this location prove a success, he plans to make it the flagship of a multi-location franchise.