Location, location, location: In downtown Camas, business owners find room to grow

Spate of recent business expansions highlight popularity of city’s core

Todd Moravitz, owner of Nuestra Mesa, stands in front of the restaurant on June 20.

The spirits display behind the bar in the lounge of Mill City Brew Werks on June 20. Mill City serves only spirits from Pacific Northwest distilleries.

Co-owner Melissa McCusker stands outside of her business, Feast 316 in downtown Camas.

By Tori Benavente, Post-Record staff writer

Downtown Camas is thriving, and a spate of recent business expansions means the community can now enjoy more accommodating spaces as well as more art, food and drinks within Camas’ core.

Mill City Brew Werks, Feast 316, Caffe Piccolo and Nuestra Mesa have all added space to their locations in the heart of downtown Camas within the past two years.

When Mill City opened in June 2013, owners Mark Zech and Walt LeDoux created a family friendly restaurant and brewpub — something the community wanted to see in the downtown area, Zech explained. However, there was another demographic within Camas that wanted a kid-free zone, where they could relax, enjoy a cocktail and watch sports.

“We listened to our customers and created another space that’s 21-and-over to satisfy exactly what they wanted,” Zech said.

The cocktail lounge opened on June 1. Behind the bar, only Pacific Northwest spirits are poured and Moscow mules and paloma cocktails are on tap. The front of the bar is lined with USB cord plug-ins, Zech said. The area has been soundproofed, so no noise travels into the restaurant area.

Mill City’s additional 1,750-square-foot space offers a completely different feel from the original brewpub. The lounge has an all-day small plates menu and is open later than the restaurant.

In 2014, Mill City won the Excellence on Main award from the Washington State Main Street Program. The state of Washington gives this award to one business in the whole state that has contributed the most to revitalization in downtown areas, Zech said.

When the restaurant first opened, Camas’ main street — in this case, Fourth Avenue — was dead and there was an unbelievable amount of empty space, Zech said. Now, the downtown has no available spaces.

Carrie Schulstad, executive director of the Downtown Camas Association, said Camas’ main street program works to revitalize the historic downtown area by marketing the town, producing image development, hosting marketing events and working on beautification.

Zech said he has noticed a major difference in the number of people coming to downtown Camas since Mill City opened: “Yesterday, I looked into the streets and there were people walking up and down everywhere. It’s just such a beautiful little community and to be part of breathing life back into it is pretty special.”

Feast 316 gets ready for larger parties

What once was a depot stop for a bus line that ran from Hood River to the coast is now Feast 316.

Tim and Melissa McCusker own the restaurant, and are part of the recent business expansions, constructing a banquet room that will connect to Feast 316’s main dining area. The banquet will accommodate larger dinner parties of 10 to 15 people, as well as events for up to 45 people, Melissa said. The couple’s goal is to open the new banquet space in July. Melissa said she encourages people who want to reserve the space to call now.

The McCuskers opened Feast 316 on New Year’s Day in 2015. After six months, they realized that they needed more space to accommodate larger parties, Melissa said. The banquet room will include movable tables, making the space even more flexible.

To accommodate more guests at the same time, the restaurant has added a prep area and a larger hood and grill in the kitchen, Melissa said.

“If there is a large party, we want to make sure that the smaller tables in the dining room won’t suffer,” she explained.

Caffe Piccolo pushes into back room

Caffe Piccolo owner Jodi Vaughan said she received a blessing in disguise when her Camas cafe got booted out of its lease on Birch Street in 2015. After losing the Birch Street lease, Vaughan moved her cafe to its current address at 400 N.E. Fourth Ave., in the epicenter of downtown Camas.

“It’s just a superior location compared to my old spot,” Vaughan said. “Right on the main street, on the corner and right across from the Camas hotel. I couldn’t ask for a better location.”

When Vaughan moved the cafe, she heard that the owner of the space behind her was retiring, so she put in a request for first rights on the space. In February, the shop began construction and the previously 400-square-foot cafe became a 1,000-square-foot cafe. The expansion has increased the cafe’s ability to host customers for longer periods of time — people now order coffee and food, then sit and gather comfortably in Cafe Piccolo’s spacious back room.

The expansion also means Caffe Piccolo can feature local artists’ work, Vaughan said. The cafe owner rotates the artwork every two months. Currently, Caffe Piccolo is featuring metal art and print by Chris Weiss.

Nuestra Mesa also part of recent expansions

Much like their business neighbors on Fourth Avenue, the owners of the Camas restaurant Nuestra Mesa also discovered that their original space wasn’t big enough to meet the increasing popularity of downtown Camas.

Todd and Tania Moravitz opened Nuestra Mesa in 2010 and have since expanded the restaurant to be three times larger, Todd said.

In 2015, the couple took over a space previously occupied by Twilight Pizza, created Nuestra Mesa’s main dining area and added more equipment to the kitchen. The previous dining area is now a 21-and-over bar.

The owners said their expanded space helped them accommodate special events with larger parties, such as birthdays and rehearsal dinners.

Speaking about all of the recent expansions and future plans for Camas’ downtown, Schulstad said Camas is a town that supports and promotes its local businesses.

“We couldn’t do it without quality merchants,” she said. “Our merchants get along, they are supportive of each other, and they refer to each other and collaborate.”