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La Bottega, Provecho, Beaches: Owners of 3 influential Vancouver restaurants look forward to next course

La Bottega, Provecho hope to stay in business under new owners, while Beaches plans to close at end of the year

By Rachel Pinsky, Columbian freelance food writer
Published: June 21, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
Beaches Restaurant and Bar will close at the end of the year as Ali Novinger and Mark Matthias retire.
Beaches Restaurant and Bar will close at the end of the year as Ali Novinger and Mark Matthias retire. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

A wave of restaurateur retirements is hitting Vancouver’s dining scene. It began with the owner of Beaches announcing he was closing the riverfront restaurant after 29 years in business. Soon after, word spread that the owners of La Bottega and Provecho were retiring. La Bottega has a buyer who plans to keep things mostly the same. Provecho is hoping for a similar deal.

These three restaurants were innovators when they opened decades ago, well before Vancouver revitalized its downtown and developed a thriving waterfront.

Provecho

Sally Kostman and Miguel Mendez began their Mexican food business selling tacos at the Vancouver Farmers Market in 2001. The market had only six food stalls in those days, and they thought visitors, like themselves, would like to eat tacos while buying locally grown produce and flowers. Their booth was successful. The food safety specialist from Clark County Public Health that inspected their taco stand encouraged them to reach out to the Schofield family to rent space for a restaurant.

In 2006, Kostman and Mendez opened small restaurant with six tables in a space off McLoughlin Boulevard and Main Street that had previously been a tattoo parlor and lingerie shop. They later expanded, building a bar in the adjacent building that had been a liquor shop. The Schofields wanted them to keep growing into more spaces, but the couple had only one grill and didn’t want to grow beyond a small manageable business.

Mendez, who had worked in construction, left his job to run the restaurant. Getting customers was a slow process, but when the business took off Kostman left her job as a nurse at Kaiser Permanente to work full time at Provecho. Everything has always been made fresh. Mendez cut and fried every chip that was sold over the 18 years of business. Kostman made the salsa every day. This was unusual when they opened their business and there was some pushback from diners used to bagged chips and jarred salsa handed out for free at other Mexican restaurants. Some customers were upset that the menu wasn’t laminated with photos of each dish. Elevated Mexican cuisine that is now standard at places like Little Conejo and Dos Alas was uncommon when Provecho opened.

At first, business was inconsistent. Their former customers at the farmers market flocked to the restaurant on Saturdays, but the rest of the week was slow. Mendez said another restaurant owner told him that he was doing everything right, he just needed to keep doing it and the business would pick up.

“It’s hard when you open the doors and no one walks in — or everybody walks in and you don’t know how to take care of them. We got used to that,” Mendez said.

With the couple’s lease on the space up on June 30 for a five-year renewal, they went back and forth on whether to continue running their business. They’ve enjoyed working with the Schofields. At the same time, Kostman is turning 65 years old and will get a pension from her nursing job. She’s interested in taking some time off, perhaps getting a puppy to keep the couple’s 11-year-old labrador retriever company and going out to dinner. Mendez said he will never retire. During the pandemic, he returned to working in the construction industry and plans on taking jobs after the restaurant closes. They’re hopeful that they will find a buyer who will continue the Provecho tradition of serving fresh Mexican food in a warm, friendly space.

“We didn’t think we’d last this long,” Kostman said. “We’ve met some fantastic people. Families that came with their babies, bring those kids back here and now they’re 18 years old. It’s been a good run. We’ll leave the party while it’s good.”

La Bottega

Like Provecho, La Bottega opened in 2006 on Main Street. At the time, there wasn’t anything open in Vancouver’s Uptown Village after 6 o’clock at night. To be successful, owners Lisa and Peter Dougherty knew they needed to have retail, a deli and a cafe. This diversity of businesses helped them get through the pandemic. In addition, having their family help run the business allowed it to thrive over the years.

Weathering the pandemic was difficult. After successfully pivoting from the market they set up during the shutdowns back to regular operations, the Doughterys decided to sell their business to slow down and spend more time with their grandchildren. They’re working with the new owner to help him transition La Bottega into a new era.

Beaches

Mark Matthias became interested in the hospitality industry while working at The Red Lion for 10 years. He then moved on to employment at an independently owned restaurant before deciding to open his own place in 1995. The Beaches concept and name came from conversations Matthias had with the late Pat Klinger, who was instrumental in marketing and branding Burgerville.

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“Pat Klinger came up with the name. He said what you’re explaining feels like a visit to the beach. I liked that idea because everybody has a great time at the beach,” Matthias said.

Matthias innovated the industry by installing an open kitchen. He implemented a no-smoking policy. At the time, no one else was doing either of these things that are now standard. Being forward-thinking was helpful, but Matthias believes the key to his success is hiring for personality and attitude and not skill level.

Matthias’ now wife, Ali Novinger, began working at Beaches about three years after the restaurant opened. When he discovered that Novinger had a marketing degree from Penn State, he promoted her. She’s been an integral part of the business. They became a couple 19 years ago and were married last July.

The couple and their staff struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic just like everyone else, however Matthias, the eternal optimist, came up with innovative ways to make the most of a difficult and unprecedented situation.

“The pandemic made us look at the business, come out of it, and reevaluate the business but it didn’t trigger our retirement,” Matthias said.

The restaurant began to return to normal operations in 2022 and the following year was very successful. Nonetheless, after 40 years in the business, Matthias is looking for change. The couple worked hard all these years, putting their energy into the business and charitable events. They aren’t sure what they will do with their free time.

“We have no idea,” Matthias said. “Ali has been asking customers in the restaurant what we should do. It’s been a fun conversation.”

They decided not to sell the business because the name is so tied to them and their charity work. In line with this charitable spirit, Beaches will provide free meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas as in past years. The last day of service on New Year’s Eve is a $1,000-a-plate charity fundraiser for 20 local nonprofits. A silent auction will sell memorabilia and fixtures from Beaches to make room for Oswego Grill, which will take over the waterfront space in summer of 2025. The goal is to raise $150,000, but Matthias believes the event will easily exceed that amount. Many of the seats at this exclusive event have already been sold despite a lack of advertising, a testament to Beaches’ legacy.

These retiring pioneers of Vancouver’s independent restaurant scene may be moving on but their influence has forever changed the dining scene here. They showed it was possible for someone to run their own business built on the passion and drive to prepare and serve people carefully prepared food and drink in warm, friendly spaces that displayed their unique visions. Their success paved the way for the restaurants that now draw crowds from all over Clark County and make Vancouver an increasingly compelling destination for tourists.

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Columbian freelance food writer