Fire on the water in Washington
Despite escalating food costs hovering between 100 to 400 percent, Chef Derrin Davis of WaterFire Restaurant in Washington reports that sales at his Pacific rim concept have never been stronger.
Restaurant revenues are up 115 percent over pre-covid sales, says the chef/owner, who attributes strong numbers to a growing and supportive customer base.
“I think with Covid we may have gained support, and also drew in first-time customers,” Davis says. “We’re in a unique position in that we’re in a little pocket of central Washington called West Valley, which only has three good restaurants in a town with a population of about 95,000.”
The Yakima native earned a culinary arts degree at Johnson & Wales in Providence, R.I., and was so inspired by the experience of the WaterFire outdoor festivals in Rhode Island, that he adopted the name for the restaurant he opened in 2018.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Chef Derrin Davis discusses the combination of artistic passion for kitchen arts and the business side of running of a restaurant in 2022.
Boxerbrand: What kind of inflation costs are you dealing with?
Chef Davis: We’re seeing an escalation in costs in many of our goods. Anything that comes in a plastic container or a glass bottle or jar, like olive oil, for example, has gone up 200 to 400 percent. Beef is up 100 percent and chicken is up 200 percent.
The cost of labor is another area of higher costs. Restaurants lose people to other industries that are not as challenging and more financially rewarding. We’re also seeing a different type of applicant from a labor pool that has been impacted by the legalization of recreational marijuana.
As a result, we’ve been challenged to find individuals who have a passion for hospitality and restaurants, and to use every ounce of product. We’re forced as operators to squeeze as much as we can out of that orange!
Boxerbrand: And yet, you’ve thrived. How have you done it?
Chef Davis: We’ve found a way to drill down on consistency in our food and we teach our cooks the recipes down to the grain of salt.
When I develop a recipe with my sous chef, the recipe is down to the grain of salt, exact temperature, and we take a photo of it so that it can be duplicated exactly as developed.
Boxerbrand: Can you describe further how you’ve thrived in current conditions?
Chef Davis: When we opened in 2018, we had several things going for us that separated us from the pack. One, we had a lot more seating than most. In our areas, the foodie-oriented restaurants, though they have excellent chefs, seat only about 40. By contrast, our restaurant can seat 300. On top of that we maintain strong consistency with the quality of our food—our customers can rely on a dish being as great as it was the first time they had it— and at the same time, I’ve been very aggressive with our prices. I’ve always said that as long as we make people happy, they’d keep coming back, and the money would come.
Boxerbrand: What inspires your menu?
Chef Davis: We specialize in the Pacific rim, and anything that touches it, so we source from the West Coast, Hawaii, and South America. I’ve been cooking since I was 8. I worked with my sister Jennifer when we were kids. Before I went to college I worked for a hotel sushi restaurant, and developed my flair for building a plate of natural flavors. After college I worked on the Oregon coast and Austin, Texas, before coming back home to open my own restaurant.
Boxerbrand: What is WaterFire’s niche in your home town?
Chef Davis: WaterFire is a unique experience in Yakima, which, when our waterfall and fire element is completed, will reflect in our way the amazing experience of WaterFire in Providence, Rhode Island. At the same time, we are a restaurant that caters to the people of Yakima turning our incredible agricultural abundance into the perfect canvas for flavors.
We have a broad concept where we offer anything from burgers and fish ‘n chips to Wagyu beef and lobster in a casual, comfortable environment that sits along a creek running past the property.
Boxerbrand: You and your sister continue to work in symmetry in Yakima.
Chef Davis: My sister works for the tourism industry in our area, and we share a love for Yakima, the valley, and the people here. We understand them. I love the valley, and the evolution of this area. I’ve always dreamed of opening my own restaurant, and when I saw WaterFire in Providence, R.I. I found a passion to bring that sort of a feel, something very special, back home.— WaterFire uses Boxerbrand’s Metallic Tones menu cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!