Mayor at Battle Ground’s ‘second City Hall’ a restaurant industry promoter

Mill Creek Pub owner hopes to give back to the industry

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

MIll Creek Pub

What: The restaurant serves casual fine dining fare and has a full bar.

Where: 1710 S.W. Ninth Ave., Battle Ground.

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

Info: www.millcreekpub.com, facebook.com/millcreekpub or 360-723-5223.

BATTLE GROUND — One could say the Mill Creek Pub is akin to Battle Ground’s second City Hall.

Tucked away in a strip mall on Southwest Ninth Avenue, the 2-year-old business is a gathering place for city leaders. They meet there to nosh and gab, discuss city business, celebrate election victories and lament defeats.

The mayor of this foodie fiefdom of sorts is a former ski junkie from the East Coast with a penchant for politics. After 37 years working in the service industry, pub owner Russell Brent said he still loves restaurants.

“I’m all restaurants, all the time,” he said.

Local politicians and business folks make his restaurant a local hangout. But despite his political ties, Brent said he’s more apt to “run from” office than for it.

And people’s stomachs are better for it.

Restaurants are different from politics, he said, because they act as places where people can hash out their differences, not wallow in them.

“I want to reach across the table and break bread,” Brent said. “At a restaurant, all you have to do is stay at the table. Otherwise, you just get the scraps.”

It’s a concept he’s fostered in Battle Ground.

Brent came to Clark County from California, where he was managing restaurant chains. He did the same thing for several years in Vancouver.

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In 2010, he became a partner in the Black Pearl, a proposed eatery that was set to take shape near the Port of Camas-Washougal marina. The plan dissolved when another partner and chief financier, Bill Sheretz, died in 2011. The death came as a shock and placed the Black Pearl in limbo, where it remains.

After that project seemingly fell through, Brent turned his attention to starting another restaurant in Battle Ground.

When Jim West, a commercial real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, inquired whether Brent might be interested in acquiring space near Battle Ground Cinema, the restaurateur jumped at the opportunity. It would allow him a second chance to start his own restaurant from the ground up and stick to an original vision.

That project turned into Mill Creek Pub. The name comes from the actual Mill Creek, along with the large, working waterwheel that rotates next to the entrance.

In just two years, the restaurant has turned into a center of activity. While Brent says he’s surprised by the immediate success, he embraces the notion of giving people a place get to know each other.

“Making connections someplace is important,” Brent said.

From ski bum to ‘black box’

Brent wasn’t always attracted to the restaurant industry. His first love was freestyle skiing — the devil-may-care style known for its twists and jumps, and its element of danger.

For a self-described adrenaline junkie, the sport gave Brent a rush.

But he had to put his passion for the slopes on hold after he was hit by a car as a teenager. The accident severed the transverse processes in his spine, which is essentially a broken spinal bone.

He spent a couple of years recuperating from the injury. But by the time he was healed, he was no longer competitive in the sport.

“Most of the kids were better than me anyway,” he said. “By the time I got back, they just blew me away.”

Brent spent the next several years working for IBM on a series of classified — since declassified — “black box” projects for the military. They involved radar jamming and radar detection. He said he was fortunate for the job opportunity because it allowed him to pay for college and receive his degree in restaurant management.

That’s all it took. After a little time in kitchens and dining rooms, he was hooked.

Now he’s like an evangelist for the industry.

Feeding influence

Brent says he embraces his influential role in Battle Ground, even if it’s not of a purely political nature.

He says he wants to pass on his passion for restaurants to the next generation and give a boost to an industry he considers to have oppressively high barriers to entry.

This could be accomplished, he said, with restaurant-based apprenticeship programs for young people Brent’s idea calls for creating a program, through the Clark County Skills Center, for kids who may not want to attend a four-year college. As the liaison for the Washington Restaurant Association, he supports the idea, which would allow young people to test the waters and learn different types of restaurant skills.

Through the program, apprentices would be paid a portion of minimum wage, but full tips, and learn useful skills.

The idea is intended to create room within the employment market for more restaurant workers, especially young people just starting their work-a-day lives. By some estimates, one in four people takes a first job at a restaurant.

He envisions providing the same type of education-by-doing that he received three decades ago, when he did an internship at a French restaurant.

“When students see they are achieving something at school,” he said, “it changes their whole perspective.”

Russell Brent

A profile of the owner of the Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground.