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News / Life / Food

Woody’s Tacos says adios to site

Popular Mexican restaurant to close downtown after losing dispute with state over its liquor license; new location to open soon

By Allan Brettman, Columbian Business Editor
Published: December 7, 2018, 6:43pm
6 Photos
Andrew Willson, left, and A.J. Roberts eat lunch at Woody’s Tacos on Friday afternoon, a week before the popular downtown eatery is scheduled to close.
Andrew Willson, left, and A.J. Roberts eat lunch at Woody’s Tacos on Friday afternoon, a week before the popular downtown eatery is scheduled to close. Photo Gallery

Woody’s Tacos, whose brand of Mexican cuisine brought a steady line of customers to its downtown restaurant, will close that location next weekend.

The restaurant operated at 210 W. Evergreen Blvd. for 10 years, opening Aug. 1, 2008. But owner Scott “Woody” Holzinger decided recently to close after losing a dispute with state Liquor and Cannabis Board investigators. He announced his decision Thursday on Facebook.

“It was my baby,” Holzinger, 61, said in a phone interview Friday. “It’s heart wrenching for me.”

The restaurant’s last scheduled day is Saturday, Dec. 15. Later this month, however, he will have a soft opening for another restaurant, also called Woody’s Tacos, at 7900 E. Mill Plain Blvd., in the former Garrison Square shopping center, now called The Mill. A grand opening is likely on New Year’s Eve.

And he’s looking for another downtown Vancouver location for a restaurant.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to find another location downtown,” he said. “Everybody knows me downtown.”

But Holzinger remains perplexed why a Liquor and Cannabis Board agent visited his restaurant in recent months to tell him he was violating state law by serving alcohol in the brick-paved, indoor courtyard of Vancouver Marketplace, the building that once housed a Ford auto dealership.

Holzinger estimated that Woody’s Tacos derived 12 percent of its revenue from alcohol sales — beer, wine and mixed drinks (especially margaritas). The restaurant has only 24 seats, so the additional seating available in the indoor courtyard — shared with neighboring businesses — was valuable.

“I’ve been serving alcohol for 10 years and all of a sudden they came in and said you can’t serve alcohol in that courtyard because it’s a public area,” he said.

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When an agent told him he was breaking state rules, Holzinger said he knew immediately what that meant.

“That was a death knell,” he said. “I told him, ‘You guys are going to put me out of business.’ ”

Although he served alcohol in the courtyard for a decade amid imbibers, teetotalers and families with children, Holzinger says he holds no ill will toward the Liquor and Cannabis Board. Those are the rules, he acknowledged.

“In a way I rolled the dice for 10 years without even knowing it,” Holzinger said. “All of a sudden it became very clear, very quickly I’d been doing it wrong all these years.”

A Liquor and Cannabis Board officer told Holzinger in September he was in violation and suggested he submit an alteration request to his alcohol license, which he did, said Jeremy Hogan, a licensing investigator who oversaw the case.

Liquor and Cannabis officials subsequently made suggestions to Holzinger about how he could alter the physical setup of the restaurant to bring it into compliance, Hogan said.

Holzinger said he considered those suggestions but said the change would be too expensive or did not make sense logistically.

On Friday, he was busy readying the east Vancouver location for its opening. All of the downtown full-time staff — about a dozen people, two of whom have been with the restaurant since its start — will transfer to the new restaurant, he said.

At the original Woody’s, customers lamented its imminent demise.

Zach Pyle, 27, who lives in downtown Vancouver with his wife, said, “It was a destination for us. We’ll be sad to see it go.”

A.J. Robertson, 26, and Andrew Willson, 26, both of Vancouver and employed at nearby LSW Architects, said Woody’s is the best Mexican restaurant in Vancouver, detailing the shortcomings of its competitors.

Robertson, having polished off an Ahi tuna taco, held out hope the restaurant would re-emerge at another downtown location.

Upon hearing the news, customer Callie Christensen, 35, of Vancouver, said loudly, “That makes me so sad!”

Christensen dined with colleagues Kelly Oriard, 34, of Vancouver, and Alissa Kramer, 28, of Portland, all of whom work downtown at the children’s doll company, Slumberkins.

“This is our favorite lunch spot,” Oriard said, also giving high marks to downtown’s The Mighty Bowl and The Smokin’ Oak.

Informed that Holzinger is seeking a new downtown location, Christensen’s mood lightened.

“So they’re not closing? Thank God!”

Columbian Business Editor