Floating the future of WareHouse ’23

Restaurant is thriving at the former Red Lion, but how long will it stay there?

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer and Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

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Two weeks ago, WareHouse ’23 made its first official expansion.

With “some paint and some labor” and flourishes of reclaimed wood, owner Mark Matthias said, they rebuilt some event spaces at the former Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay. The renovation took about four days of work and cost $10,000.

“Let’s say it looked extremely tired,” he said.

Matthias said the work was worth it. WareHouse ’23 has been thriving since it opened in July 2016, which Matthias ascribes to a waterfront view, a good menu and a sea change in Vancouver’s restaurant scene.

Even with the successes, looming development at the waterfront means the restaurant can’t get too comfortable.

“The outside hasn’t changed a lot because at some point you have to quit throwing dollars at a building we all know is going to go away, down the road,” he said.

When the Port of Vancouver eventually starts its mixed-use waterfront project, Terminal 1, it will likely replace the building and could put the restaurant on hiatus for months. But Matthias said they will cross that bridge when they get to it.

Quay to success

WareHouse ’23’s recent expansion was made official less than two weeks ago, when it amended its lease with the Port of Vancouver. It pays more rent now, but it added event space.

Events, according to Matthias, have been valuable for the restaurant’s early success. Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 square feet is divvied up among a ballroom, a new boardroom and other spaces. About 30 percent of revenues come from company parties and fundraisers, he said.

Matthias declined to disclose sales but said they have risen steadily since opening.

“The restaurant just keeps increasing,” he said, a trend he suspects is occurring all around the restaurants in Vancouver. “There’s new restaurants going in all the time. Then you get that clustering where people get out and roam a little bit.”

WareHouse ’23 isn’t selling quite on the level of Matthias’ Beaches Restaurant and Bar, which has locations on Southeast Columbia River Drive and at Portland International Airport, but it’s doing well for its investment.

The Vancouver restaurateur invested about $150,000 in total in WareHouse ’23. He said they have helped themselves by refurbishing a lot of the equipment and furniture left behind by the hotel, which operated from 1962 to 2015.

Other than its menu, the location kind of sells itself, Matthias said. He called it “iconic” and said people really enjoy the views of the Columbia River.

“It’s hard to beat the view when the river is going underneath you,” he said. “That’s what I like about the long-term plan by the port. When they put a new building there, you’ll have a walkway out in front, tables for relaxing, dining right over the water.”

Matthias credited the Port of Vancouver for a lot of the success as well, especially in the early stages.

“I got to give the port a lot of credit here. Boy, they were with us for months just getting back to where it was operational — electrical, plumbing, ADA compliance. All of those things had to be taken care of,” he said.

Changing tides

WareHouse ’23 is leased with the Port of Vancouver through August 2020, but what the future holds for the property it occupies is still uncertain.

The Port of Vancouver plans to redevelop nearly 10.4 acres there into four blocks of residential, retail and restaurant space. The very site of WareHouse ’23 is set to become a public marketplace, paying homage to its industrial past.

Most of that project remains in concept development, but what is certain is that the nearly 100-year-old dock on which WareHouse ’23 sits needs to be replaced. For that to happen, the structures on it have to come down.

On Tuesday, Port of Vancouver commissioners approved a contract for a partial design drawing for a new dock, which included a cost estimate of removing the original dock and its buildings and building a new dock.

It’s unclear when any deconstruction might start. Abbi Russell, a Port of Vancouver spokeswoman, said the port will honor its lease with WareHouse ’23 and has set money aside to maintain the existing dock for the next several years.

“We do not plan to demolish the dock structure or restaurant/hotel before then,” Russell said in an email. “But in the meantime, we’ll be working on a design and permitting, with engineering and architectural milestones along the way, which we will certainly share.”

Russell added that they still hope to preserve some of the original building.

Matthias said having an expiration date on the building has not impacted how they operate or how they have staffed. But he said they haven’t yet figured out how it’s going to play out when it comes time to leave.

He said it’s possible that the restaurant could be down for at least a year and a half. They would consider finding a temporary space, but he said they would need at least 6,000 square feet.

“I would move the location to another temporary space, which sounds odd but that could happen,” he said. “It’s something we chose to do. To me, it was worth partnering with the port on a project like this long-term.”