Ellensburg Downtown Association promotes local restaurants to help them survive winter slow down

David Snyder, Staff Reporter

According to Taylor Villwock, public relations coordinator for the Ellensburg Downtown Association (EDA), the toughest financial stretch of the year for downtown Ellensburg restaurants is between January and February.

That’s under normal circumstances. Under the current state health restrictions, the latter half of winter brings a harsh new set of challenges.

“The rules [right now] are very strict towards restaurants,” Villwock said. “Outdoor dining in the summer was no big deal, but in the winter, obviously, it’s a lot harder because it’s cold.” 

Many are having to jump through hoops to acquire heaters and tents to make outdoor dining possible. Above everything, Villwock said she encourages people to eat locally downtown because of the personal struggle the owners are experiencing right now to keep their businesses afloat. 

“They never know what’s going to come next, and that really takes a toll on them … these people put everything into their businesses,” Villwock said.

Normally, the EDA hosts in-person events around the winter holiday season that bring an economic spike to downtown, such as the “Holiday Girls Night Out” event. Without those events this past season, Villwock said restaurants don’t have the extra money to help get through winter.

According to Villwock, the EDA has had to adapt its focus to smaller events and online promotions to keep people dining downtown.

Jan. 26 marks the end of their “Takeout Tuesday” contest, which started back in late December. People could enter to win a $50 gift card to any downtown joint by commenting a photo of their Tuesday takeout on the EDA’s Facebook page.

Despite success with a similar promotion last summer, Villwock said there was a lack of participation this time around. However, she believes the event still served its intended purpose.

“I would rather do something and have it be somewhat successful than not do anything,” Villwock said. “It not only [encouraged] people to go out to eat, but by having them post photos [on Facebook] or posting on their Instagram stories tagging the restaurants, it just brings additional promotion.”

The EDA isn’t done with its giveaway contests for the winter just yet, because starting Feb. 10 is Restaurant Month.

Until March 10, participating downtown restaurants will offer a special takeout meal for $20.21. In addition, the EDA will also be providing bingo cards to the community. Each box on the card will have a different activity or meal special that restaurants are offering during the month.

If someone dines-out frequently and does everything on their card to get a “bingo,” they will be entered into a drawing. The winner earns a gift card to every restaurant in the historic downtown district.  

Sarah Beauchamp said her cocktail bar, The Mule, plans on being involved in Restaurant Month although she doesn’t have any details on its planned specials yet. Like many, her restaurant was hit hard by Gov. Jay Inslee’s second lockdown order in November 2020.

Beauchamp said the second lockdown was especially difficult because the restaurant wasn’t prepared for the extension. Right now, she’s still working with the city to get permits for outdoor seating.

“It’s just been this tightrope walk of when to open and when to close, what to offer and what not to offer,” Beauchamp said. “We’ve been lucky enough to get some grants from the city and chamber [of commerce], but trying to navigate when to open, and then nobody comes [to buy] takeout, you’re losing money. I can’t afford to lose money.”

Recently, The Mule celebrated its two-year anniversary, since opening in 2019. According to Beauchamp, the restaurant’s revenue was cut by more than half from its first year to its second year open. Also, her staff has dropped from seven people to three.

While the financial loss has been significant, Beauchamp said she especially misses the sense of community the restaurant shared with its frequent customers.

 “We have a lot of people supporting us with to-go orders, but we would spend a lot of time just talking with our guests,” Beauchamp said. “We truly miss our connections with our customers and our community.”

For The Mule, Beauchamp has been expanding the restaurant’s activity on Facebook by frequently posting videos to keep customers updated on what they’re doing. She said the EDA shares a lot of their posts, and because of that, it plays a critical role in helping them promote.

“[The EDA] have been constant with their promotion of our business,” Beauchamp said. “People look to them to support the downtown, and I love how they support everybody.”