Bookwalter Winery is expanding its dining business in service of a lofty goal.
Owner John Bookwalter wants to transform the Richland winery’s Fiction restaurant into a top-drawer establishment worthy of the industry’s highest honor. To do it, he’s opening a new restaurant in the former RF McDougall’s Irish Pub & Eatery to serve as a casual dining outlet, allowing Fiction to focus on best-in-class service.
“The whole idea for Fiction is to become a James Beard-nominated restaurant,” Bookwalter said. “That takes a lot of focus and time. It’s a lofty aspiration, but that’s how I see it.”
The James Beard Foundation issues its coveted awards in honor of the late Portland native once dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery.”
McDougall’s becomes Fable
Fable Craft Bar, currently part of the Bookwalter lineup in south Richland, will open a second site as Fable Craft Bar and Kitchen in the former RF McDougall’s spot, 1705 Columbia Park Trail, at the Richland Wye.
The new location will open in late summer or early fall, depending on the scope of renovations and Bookwalter’s ability to buy the equipment and other materials he needs.
“Welcome to our supply chain world,” he joked.
It is retaining Fable Craft Bar at its original location to serve craft cocktails.
Bookwalter said Fable will cater to the casual market with upscale bar food and a fixed menu. Fiction will be reserved for the best of the best with a menu focused on in-season food available and a menu that changes monthly.
“I would love to see Fiction associated with fine dining anywhere,” he said.
Fiction will get a $1 million update, including an expanded kitchen, as part of Bookwalter’s overhaul of the Richland winery property, where it recently debuted a new building at Tulip Lane and Columbia Park Trail for wine tasting, storage, production and event space.
The McDougall renovations will cost an additional $500,000, depending on any unexpected surprises along the way.
As he spoke, the building was being checked for asbestos. Bookwalter called the McDougall’s deal an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The restaurant closed during the Covid-19 shutdowns and despite assurances it would reopen, it did not.
“I didn’t plan on doing this,” he said.
He met with owner Bruce Ratchford and signed a lease for a property he already knew well.
Bookwalter, whose parents established the winery he leads, said RF McDougall’s was the spot he went to drink and eat as a young adult. When he moved back to the Tri-Cities and joined the family business 25 years ago, it was a regular stop.
Location, location, location
The restaurant, perched above the Columbia Park Trail, offers stellar views of Bateman Island at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers in the foreground and the Pasco shoreline in the distance. Generations of Tri-Citians know it well.
“It’s such a great location and so many people here have a good, positive mental image of their time spent there. For me, it’s exciting to freshen it up and bring a whole new life to it,” he said.
Bookwalter will install new kitchen gear and plans an overall refresh, designed by Wave Design and carried out by Hummel Construction and Development. The boxy, green building hasn’t been significantly updated in decades, he said.
“We have to dig in,” he said.
The area also is getting fresh attention after the city of Richland and its partners renovated Columbia Park Trail and shoreline amenities.
Bookwalter liked the symmetry between McDougall’s and his existing property, a few miles west, also on Columbia Park Trail.
The two bookend each other, he said.
Bookwalter also operates Non-Fiction, a food truck.
Bookwalter said Fable, like the rest of the business, is committed to livable wages for its 70 employees, with 50 working on the food service side. That includes living wage levels, benefits and a-sharing plan.
“It allows people to share in the success of the operation,” he said.