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News / Business / Clark County Business

Owners of iconic Vancouver waterfront restaurant Beaches plan to retire; restaurant’s last day will be Dec. 31

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 19, 2024, 1:02pm
3 Photos
Mark Matthias, left, and Ali Novinger, owners of Beaches Restaurant and Bar, announced Monday they plan to retire and close the business Dec. 31.
Mark Matthias, left, and Ali Novinger, owners of Beaches Restaurant and Bar, announced Monday they plan to retire and close the business Dec. 31. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

After 29 years, the owners of Beaches Restaurant and Bar are retiring. The local restaurant is set to serve its last meal Dec. 31.

The restaurant, which opened on the Vancouver waterfront in June 1995, has become a Vancouver icon known for its culture of service and community engagement.

Owner Mark Matthias said Beaches had a record year in 2023, but he and his wife, Ali Novinger, “feel it’s time to enjoy other aspects of life.”

Matthias said he is committed to making this last year at Beaches the best yet. He doesn’t plan to sell the business. Instead, he and Novinger want another restaurant to build its own legacy at the location. The building’s owner, C.E. John, is looking for another food establishment to take over the riverfront space.

When it opened, Beaches was one of the only open-kitchen restaurants in the Portland metro area.

“We just wanted that connection,” Matthias said.

Connection — with customers and the community — has defined Beaches. Matthias said the business’s culture comes from putting a team of people together who care about the guests and about each other.

“I truly enjoy meeting strangers and connecting with them,” Matthias said. “That’s what our business is — it’s about meeting strangers and creating friendships.”

Events

Beaches has raised almost $4 million for local nonprofits. Each year, Beaches brings Bites & Books (formerly Green Eggs and Ham) to local first-graders in honor of Read Across America week. The restaurant hosts a holiday meal program, as well as regular fundraisers for nonprofit groups and the annual Summer Social and Cruisin’. All are expected to continue as scheduled through the rest of the year.

Beaches “has paved the way for nonprofits to be successful and to be able to count on support from the community,” said Kim Capeloto, a former Riverview Bank executive and president of The Lighthouse Financial Foundation in Vancouver.

Jennifer Rhoads, executive director of the Firstenburg Foundation, has lived in Clark County her whole life and worked for numerous charitable foundations.

“I have never known a business that has done the work that they (at Beaches) have done,” she said.

Rhoads remembers one of the first times she went into Beaches; she noticed life preserver rings on the walls with people’s names on them. She later found out the rings were to honor philanthropists in the community.

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“I just thought, ‘What a great way to celebrate other people’s generosity,’” she said.

Staff

Matthias said Beaches’ 75 employees will stay on until the end of the year, at which time they’ll be given bonuses, as well as help finding new jobs.

He said his fondest memories of running Beaches were activities with his team, such as holiday parties and beach trips.

Matthias said he thinks his company’s success comes down to being able to connect with the community beyond dining.

“I attribute most of it to the team, and their care and their personal experience that they create for the guest,” Matthias said.

Capeloto recalls a meal he and his wife had at Beaches. They wanted a nice glass of port to close out the night. They asked their waiter, who said he’d check to see what the bar had stocked.

About 10 minutes later, an out-of-breath waiter returned with their drinks. After consulting with Matthias, the waiter drove to Fred Meyer nearby and bought port to serve the couple.

“That guy had no idea who I was,” Capeloto said. The service at Beaches has always been incredible, he added. But the culture sets it apart.

Evolution

Matthias said his team listened to the community and sought to include charitable work as part of daily life. It’s one of the things that has really defined Beaches over the years, he added.

The restaurant’s biggest challenge came with the onset of the pandemic, which hit the food service industry especially hard.

“You just had to make the most of it and try to make it fun during the process,” Matthias said.

He said his team has had to fight for the restaurant every day. Despite its success over the years, that hasn’t changed.

“I think your reputation is defined over time through consistency,” Matthias said.

Capeloto said Beaches’ footprint extends to communities throughout Southwest Washington. But its impact on Vancouver is evident. Matthias was honored with the First Citizen award in 2008.

“Realistically, they have helped this community get from the Vancouver of 25 years ago to the Vancouver of today,” Capeloto said.

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