Less than three months after he was forced to close his restaurants in Kennewick and Prosser, Frank Magana is back in Washington wine country.
Magana has launched Chef Magana Catering, and he will be based at Alexandria Nicole Cellars in Prosser, where he began when he came to Eastern Washington in 2005 for his first wine country cooking gig.
Magana opened Picazo 717 in Prosser in 2007. Last May, he relocated the restaurant to the Southridge area of Kennewick and also operated Mojave by Picazo at Desert Wind Winery in Prosser, all while juggling a busy catering business.
By fall, everything collapsed, primarily because revenues could not keep up with expenses even though he said he was doing about three times as much business at the Kennewick location.
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After closing Picazo in early November, Magana and his wife, Tricia, began evaluating their next move. They headed back to Tacoma, where Magana grew up, to spend time with family during the holidays.
"We were rethinking what we wanted to do next, what would make us the happiest," he said.
He considered finding work at a restaurant in the Puget Sound region, but his heart was in wine country. They decided opening a restaurant was not viable, but their research -- and the feedback from their customer base over the years -- showed catering was the way to go.
"We'll be based in Prosser, getting back to our roots," Magana said. "The community is very welcoming, and this is where we want to raise our family."
With the failure of Picazo 717, Magana had to sell nearly everything to pay his debts, including his home and equipment. So he is starting over in just about every way. He is leasing Alexandria Nicole's kitchen and will be the caterer for events at the winery, which can seat about 60.
But he has all of his contacts from Picazo. And he still has his giant paella pan, a signature dish with many of his clients.
The demise of Picazo did not slow Magana down. Through the holidays, he was catering private events, and he has many gigs already lined up in the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and Spokane, including winemaker dinners and cooking classes. He plans to participate in Taste Washington, a huge wine and food event this spring in Seattle.
Being in the Yakima Valley is important to Magana for many reasons. Access to fresh, local and seasonal ingredients is key to his cooking style, he said.
"It's all about knowing the farmers, knowing the winemakers and sourcing locally," he said. "I want to be known as the wine country chef."
He said 90 percent of his business comes from wineries, and that will continue with his new venture.
For more information on Chef Magana Catering, call 509-987-5074 or go to chefmagana.com.