Tuesday, April 13, 2021
April 13, 2021

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Food & Drink: Hey, what happened to Hey Jack!?

Restaurant in downtown Camas closes after a year

3 Photos
The exterior of Hey Jack in downtown Camas, now closed.
The exterior of Hey Jack in downtown Camas, now closed. Rachel Pinsky Photo Gallery

Hey Jack in downtown Camas recently closed after less than a year in business. Its name was meant as an invitation to a casual but elegant dining experience in downtown Camas. The response was mixed.

The restaurant initially received attention because co-owner and chef Peter Rudolph is a Michelin star chef. Don Riedthaler (the remaining owner) said that ended up being “a double edged sword.”

“People came in with this idea of a Michelin star chef in a bone silent room, and the world’s most comfortable chairs, and waiters with napkins draped over their arms,” Riedthaler said. “They had these expectations far beyond what we were trying to do.”

The partners discovered that the business could only support one family, so Riedthaler became the sole owner. But after Rudolph left, people didn’t consider Hey Jack a casual neighborhood restaurant but more of a special occasion or date-night spot. People weren’t sure how to dress. Some diners arrived dressed formally, some in jeans. Those who dressed up felt their experience was ruined by other customers’ more casual dress.

Another problem was customer flow — everyone showed up on weekends at 6 p.m. In response, weekends were reservation only. People who arrived on Friday or Saturday without a reservation felt slighted that they couldn’t get a table. On weeknights, though, the room was mostly empty.

Being busy a couple of nights and almost empty the rest of the week created a challenge when sourcing locally grown food and preparing everything from scratch. Food needed to be eaten the day it was made. It made ordering food difficult.

Price and portion size were also problematic. Originally, the plates were a mix of several different dishes with a variety of preparations drizzled with housemade sauces and dressings. This was very labor intensive (driving up labor costs), and the plethora of high-quality ingredients added up. All these costs weren’t obvious to diners who just saw a high price and a small portion size.

“How do you get that message out?” Riedthaler said. “‘Hey, we’re spending a lot on mayonnaise.’ ”

To lower the cost, Riedthaler experimented with adding breakfast and lunch during the week along with less expensive entrees such as pastas and pizzas. This created confusion.

Despite all these issues, Hey Jack had loyal and enthusiastic customers. There were people who told Riedthaler their meal at Hey Jack was the best meal they had ever eaten.

“I’m grateful for the people who were tireless and supportive,” he said, “but you can’t make them go to Hey Jack every night.”

A cautionary tale

One of the most tireless and supportive customers was Carrie Schulstad, executive director of the Downtown Camas Association. She ate at Hey Jack at least 20 times. She said Hey Jack was ahead of its time, though changing the menu and the concept caused confusion.

“If you make it reliable and give people a good experience, you’ll get a local following,” she said.

Schulstad said she sees this as a cautionary tale for people who like to eat and shop in downtown Camas.

“Support your local restaurants and shops if you want them to stay,” she said.

In retrospect, Riedthaler said that he would’ve waited a year to get to know the community better before opening a restaurant.

After doing some research, he said, he would’ve discovered that people in the Pacific Northwest don’t go out very much in the winter. He would’ve made the room look more casual and inviting to locals and offered a simplified menu to lower the cost of ingredients and labor.

Tommy Owens, of Tommy O’s, has taken over Hey Jack’s space. The downtown Camas Tommy O’s will serve Hawaiian food in a casual setting.

Rachel Pinsky welcomes comments, questions, and requests for food and drink recommendations at couveeats@gmail.com. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram @couveeats.


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