Food & Wine

Ciao Wagon brings Tuscan fare to downtown Kennewick

Ciao Wagon, the mobile offshoot of Prosser’s former Tuscany Rustic Italian Bistro, is the latest to join the food truck plaza on Columbia Drive near the cable bridge.

Owners Susanne and Jessie Ayala are bringing Ciao Wagon to Port of Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens two to four days a week to serve the fresh, rustic dishes Jessie Ayala was known for at Tuscany.

Lunch options include four cheese mac-and-cheese, gyros sandwiches or bowls and a flavorful chicken smash sandwich, with brie, chicken, apple slices and basil mushed between toasted slices of French bread.

Italian sodas round out the offerings.

Ciao Wagon joins Swampy’s BBQ Sauce & Catering, which has made the urban wine village its permanent base. The rotating case of mobile food vendors includes Frost Me Sweet cupcakes and Rollin’ Fresh Ice Cream.

Ciao Wagon’s schedule is fluid, but it posts where it will be on its Facebook page, @theciaowagon. It will be at Columbia Gardens on Wednesday.

Chicken smash sandwich with brie, chicken, basil, sliced apples on french bread and a side of chips. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

Columbia Gardens is a Port of Kennewick initiative to bring wine and dining to Duffy’s Pond, adjacent the Columbia River. The property boasts two wineries and construction has begun on two additional tasting rooms.

The food truck plaza has room for six vendors fronting a plaza with picnic tables that overlooks the pond and walking trails.

Susanne Ayala said Ciao Wagon is an extension of the couple’s catering business, Tuscany, which continued after they closed the restaurant.

Gyro Sandwiches with traditional gyro meat or chicken with home made tzatziki, cucumber, tomato, onion & basil salsa topped with feta cheese in naan bread.

Jessie Ayala is a Prosser native who went to culinary school in Seattle and worked in high-end restaurants before returning home to begin Tuscany. The couple met when he hired, and later fired, Susanne.

The Ayalas — he’s the chef, she manages properties for Americold — were looking for their next opportunity after opting to close Tuscany.

Northwest restaurant experience

They bought a new food truck in Portland, but parked it for several years when they moved to Seattle. Jessie Ayala worked at a salmon restaurant and for the Boeing Co. while running the catering business back in the Tri-Cities.

In time, scooting back and forth across Snoqualmie grew too much and they moved home.

He worked at the Pasco Red Lion and as a consultant to Barnard Griffin Winery when it relaunched its restaurant, The Kitchen.

The catering business is their top priority. They use Ciao Wagon to keep their name and the quality of their food in the public eye, with a goal of creating a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Siblings Sophie and Jacob Ayala work inside the Ciao Wagon for their parents Susanne and Jessie Ayala owners of the food truck. Ciao Wagon is the latest food truck to join the Port of Kennewick’s Columbia Gardens. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

They appeared at events and festivals, quickly attracting attention from organizers looking to bring new food options to their programs.

“This year, everybody wants us to park everywhere. It’s very, very busy,” Susanne said.

Ciao Wagon is a regular at the Port of Pasco’s Osprey Point, Pasco’s Food Truck Friday, which continues through June at the Pasco Farmers Market, and local festivals and events.

Susanne said she and her husband would like to eventually open a full-time restaurant in the Tri-Cities while handing off the food truck to their son.

Next up for Chico’s Tacos

Chapala Express II will be the next occupant of the Chico’s Tacos, which closed at the end of April at Columbia Center Boulevard and Clearwater Avenue.

Chico Tacos.jpg
Chico’s Tacos, a popular Kennewick restaurant, at the corner of Clearwater Avenue and Columbia Center Boulevard closed Saturday after 22 years in business. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Christian Godinez, 22, established Chapala Express II with when he was 19 in a tiny spot on Columbia Center. When Chico’s closed in April, he applied to take over the building.

The owners of the land and Chico’s restaurant chose Godinez over national chains that wanted the high profile location. They signed the deal last week.

Godinez said he will sell his current business and relocate Chapala Express to the new spot within a few months. He wants to work on the building and expand his menu to include some of the more popular Chico’s offerings.

Godinez said he’s thrilled to be selected and hopes to grow his small business into a chain.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.