It’s a well-known fact that the restaurant industry is changing, and many are struggling, both locally and afar.
But standing tall in Enumclaw, like it’s namesake, is The Rainier Bar & Grill.
According to Manager Jill Warren, the institution has been around since the early 1920s in “some form… tavern, wine house, what-have-you.”
When her mother and stepfather, Debbie and Jeff Schweter, bought it 18 years ago, she added, it was a very different business than it is today.
But they had a vision of what it could become.
“There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to clean the place up and,” Jill said. “Not change the feel of it, but we definitely needed to shift from a dive bar to a restaurant that families would feel comfortable coming in to.”
The Rainier, in its current form, will be celebrating its 18th anniversary this October — certainly an achievement, as it’s estimated the average lifespan of a restaurant hovers between five and ten years, depending on who you ask.
Jill, who originally graduated college with a political science degree with dreams of being a lawyer, started managing the restaurant a decade ago after working for her parents on and off for several years.
Turns out, managing a restaurant is a far more family-friendly career.
There are many reasons why The Rainier is so successful, Jill said, not just in general but also specifically for its barbecues — its pulled pork sandwich and tacos and baby back ribs, which are served exclusively on Mondays and Thursdays. The Rainier was voted “Best Of” in the BBQ section with 179 votes.
Jill herself said she used to live off the pulled pork sandwich for years, thanks in part to the in-house sauce.
“The barbecue sauce is so delicious… amazingly complex,” she said, and added that the ribs are slow-roasted, hand-rubbed, and grilled to order, all of which clearly makes the meal a Plateau favorite and keeps people coming to eat.
This was, of course, especially important during the recent pandemic.
“Our little town has supported us so well. The Rainier would not survive, I feel like, in another town” because of its local image and customer loyalty. “COVID… that was exquisitely difficult. We saw how many places failed. Jackson’s, for instance, couldn’t make it through. Same owners — different style, different management, different everything. But it hadn’t been here nearly as long as The Rainier, right? … We had that to assist.”
But Jill is sure it’s not just the food people love, but staff — family, really — as well.
“I am so, so proud of us. I am so proud of my mom and stepdad for having this vision. I am so proud of my staff — we have some people that have been with us 10, 12 years,” she said. “For us to consistently pump out the level of food that we do, and the volume that we’re doing in the time that we do it, it’s mind blowing.”
Jill said it’s a pretty common phenomenon for other people who don’t work in the service industry to look down on bartenders, servers, and cooks. It happened to her often, certainly.
“Why don’t you get a real job? I’ve felt that my whole life. ‘When are you going to get a real job, Jillian? When are you going to grow up and get a desk job or whatever?’” she recalled. “It’s taken me a long time to really recognize and appreciate what this job — not just me managing, but serving, bartending — what a value we bring to our customers. “When I go out to eat, that’s the best part of my day. And I’m hoping that when I am bartending or serving… and any of my staff are doing these things, [and] cooking, that we are a part of that person’s favorite part of their day.”
For more information about The Rainier, head to rainierbarandgrill.com.