Mystery chain moving into P.F. Chang’s spot. Could it be Chili’s, Cracker Barrel or Cheesecake Factory?

An unnamed restaurant operator is finalizing a lease for the former P.F. Chang’s China Bistro near Kennewick’s Columbia Center. The building, 8108 W. Gage Blvd., was stripped of its signs and its horse after P.F. Chang’s closed in January.
An unnamed restaurant operator is finalizing a lease for the former P.F. Chang’s China Bistro near Kennewick’s Columbia Center. The building, 8108 W. Gage Blvd., was stripped of its signs and its horse after P.F. Chang’s closed in January. Tri-City Herald

An unnamed restaurant chain is wrapping up a deal to lease the former P.F. Chang’s China Bistro near Columbia Center mall in Kennewick.

The tenant is expected to announced plans for its first Tri-City location by the end of November, said Cory Barbieri, vice president of Goodale & Barbieri Co., the Spokane real estate firm marketing the building on behalf of the Kirkland-based property owner.

The prospective tenant is keeping its identity on ice until the lease is signed, Barbieri said. The brokerage is under a nondisclosure agreement.

The new operator will lease the entire 6,531-square-foot building and is expected to remodel, making it unlikely it will open in time for the 2018 holiday shopping season.

Columbia Center sold the property more than a decade ago and is not involved with the transaction.

The building was built in 2008. P.F. Chang’s operated there for a decade before it closed in January when its lease expired. The move put 50 employees out of work.

The signs were removed, along with its iconic horse.

PF Changs closing
An unnamed national chain is finalizing plans to open its first Tri-City location in the former P.F. Chang’s China Bistro restaurant, 8108 W. Gage Blvd., near Columbia Center. File Tri-City Herald

The newcomer’s identity may be a secret for now, but Tri-Citians have been clear about the brands they’d like to see pull into town.

An informal survey of 2,000 Tri-City Herald readers in 2016 showed Cheesecake Factory emerged as the restaurant chain readers most want to see in the community.

The list also included Chili’s Bar & Grill and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. The Herald reached out to all three, and to Ruby Tuesday, which advertised for Tri-City franchisees in 2016, to ask if they were the mystery tenant.

Calabasas, Calif.-based Cheesecake Factory was encouraging but did not directly answer the question.

“Our restaurant development team is always on the lookout for premier sites to further grow The Cheesecake Factory brand presence, and all sites that fit our criteria for success will be seriously considered,” it said in a statement from Alethea Rowe, senior director for public relations.

At 6,500 square feet, the building falls slightly short of the company’s target of 7,500-10,000 square feet for new locations, though it could, in theory, be expanded. Cheesecake Factory restaurants generate an average $10.6 million in annual sales, according to its most recent annual report.

Cracker Barrel, which is based in Lebanon, Tenn., has expanded to Idaho and Oregon, but not yet to Washington. A spokeswoman said it has no announcements to make about a possible entry into the Evergreen State.

Chili’s and Ruby Tuesday could not be reached.

The P.F. Chang’s spot was marketed at $25 per square foot per year, for a total annual base rent of about $163,000, plus utilities, taxes and insurance. The property includes 103 parking spots and is neighbors with Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que and Columbia Center.

The building is one of just three spaces being actively marketed as restaurant space in the Tri-Cities, though most retail spaces can be converted if the landlord and tenant are willing to invest in spendy equipment such as ventilation hood systems.

The former Mai House Seafood Grill & Bar, and later Fredy’s Steakhouse, at 3617 Plaza Way, is being offered at $22 per square foot per year, plus expenses.

The former Frankenburger Fry Labs, above Porter’s Real Barbecue at 1022 N. Columbia Center Blvd., is being privately marketed. Frankenburger operated briefly between 2016 and 2017 before abruptly closing.

Drumheller’s honored

Drumheller’s, the newly opened restaurant at The Lodge at Columbia Point, has received the OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award.

Chef Pauline Garza leads Drumheller’s, the restaurant at The Lodge in Richland. Drumheller’s has received an OpenTable diner’s choice award. File Tri-City herald.

The award is based on feedback from diners who book through the OpenTable reservation system. After the meal, diners are asked to submit reviews.

Drumheller’s, led by Chef Pauline Garza, opened at The Lodge in June to cater to guests of the 82-room wine-oriented hotel as well as the public. It takes his name from the late Tom Drumheller, who died shortly after The Lodge opened in 2017.

Dovetail Joint heads to Richland’s Uptown

Dovetail Joint, a popular Tri-City mobile food vendor, will soon plant its roots in Richland.

Established by Maren and Matt McGowan as a mobile business, Dovetail Joint plans to open at 1368 Jadwin Ave., a former cosmetology academy, in the Uptown shopping center. It submitted applications for permits to the city of Richland in September.

Wine Festival is coming

The 2018 Tri-Cities Wine Festival is 7-10 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 10, at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. Ticket are $60 in advance or $65 the day of the event. All attendees must be at least 21 and have photo ID.

The festival and gala includes more than 70 wineries, 375 wine samplings, local breweries and local food vendors. A silent auction will support scholarships for students pursuing degrees related to wine making.

The wine festival is one of the oldest wine competitions in the Northwest. Sponsors include Gesa Credit Union and Coca Cola.

Interesting restaurant job this week

Eat All About It is testing out something new this week, a profile of the most intriguing service industry job posting on the internet for the week. Today, we spied Sonic’s post for a carhop, or more interestingly, a skating carhop, for its Gage Boulevard location. Skating carhops have to meet all the usual job criteria plus “stand, balance and carry a tray and sweep while roller skating.” Candidates must complete the company’s skating program.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514