For Washougal Times chef, a ‘dream come true’

Located in former Heller’s space, new restaurant serves all-American cuisine, celebrates town’s history

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Ben Jackson stands in front of what he calls "the best shuffleboard in Clark County" at Washougal Times, which hosted its grand opening in mid-April.

Ben Jackson, chef and manager at the new Washougal Times restaurant, which hosted its grand opening the weekend of April 12, has been working around food almost as long as he can remember.

Jackson received his first cooking lessons at an early age during regular visits to his aunt’s house. Years later, when Jackson was in high school, he responded to a job posting for a dishwasher at a restaurant.

From the moment that he accepted that job, he’s basically never left the food-service industry.

“I never went to preschool,” Jackson said. “I went over to (my aunt’s) house and we baked all the time, made food all the time. I had that subliminal experience put in me from my aunt. I just enjoyed it. I started when I was washing dishes when I was 15, and I got hooked right away. I found myself applying (for more food industry jobs), and I never looked back. I was lucky enough to have been around people that were excellent at it and that taught me how to react and deal with things. I got infected.”

That “infection” led Jackson, who grew up in Colorado and moved to Oregon in 2000, to a 17-year stint as a chef and director of food and beverage at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland.

During his time at the club, Jackson became friends with one of the members, Tom Leaptrott. Over the years Jackson talked about his goal of owning his own restaurant someday, and Leaptrott said that he would buy a restaurant for Jackson to run if an opportunity became available.

“He’s a fantastic guy and a great chef,” Leaptrott said. “I saw how passionate he was about his job and his work ethic and (his ability) to manage a staff.”

They pursued the idea for several years with no success before they received the opportunity they had been looking for in 2018. That was when Randy and Reta Heller announced their intentions to retire and put their Washougal eatery, Heller’s Restaurant and Lounge, up for sale.

Leaptrott and a business partner purchased the restaurant so that, in Leaptrott’s words, “Ben could live his dream.”

Jackson’s dream came true when Washougal Times, a restaurant serving traditional American fare located at 1826 “E” St., in Washougal, opened this spring.

“My gal and I had been coming here for over a decade to see our good friends, and every time we (came) out here we really wanted to move out here,” Jackson said of Washougal. “We were looking to move out here, and this pops up, and all the stars align. My previous job, I was there for 17 years and I was looking for a change. We love the small-town community. We’re really invested in being a part of a smaller community, and what better way to do it than (this)?”

Even though he’s new to Washougal, Jackson is fully embracing the community. He sold his house in Portland and moved to a residence within a mile of the restaurant last summer.

His commitment is evidenced by the dozens of old photographs, printed from the archives at Two Rivers Heritage Museum, that hang on his restaurant’s walls.

“Really, Washougal Times is about this community — Washougal proper,” Jackson said. “Everyone who comes through the door brings so much to the table with their personalities and friendliness and ingenuity. I really feel lucky to be part of the community. Whether it be at the bar (talking to) someone in their 60s or with a 5-year-old playing skeeball, it all feels good.”

Jackson said he doesn’t “want to put a tag on anything” when it comes to his restaurant. He sees it as a true community gathering place, built for a variety of different uses by a variety of different people.

“One of the nice things about this building is there’s so many things to offer to the whole community,” he said. “You have families in the dining room, the game room in the middle for kids and the lounge for adult time.Then there’s the upstairs, too. We’ll open that up to banquet space — the sports teams, they’re all looking for places to have their end-of-the-year banquets.”

Jackson said his new restaurant has, in his opinion, “Clark County’s nicest shuffleboard table.”

“We’re family dining. We’re a sports bar. We’re a place to come chill after work. We’re a place to come to have a conversation or celebrate or commiserate with your bartender. It’s a place to watch the game. It’s a place to sit and listen to music. It’s a place to bring the whole family,” Jackson said.

Jackson describes his food as “simple, all-American cuisine.” The menu includes a variety of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, steaks and fish. The grand opening menu featured items such as a loaded baked potato, chilled prime rib sandwich, clam chowder, hearty vegetable beef soup, macaroni and cheese with or without pesto chicken and charred broccolini.

“Pretty much everything (Jackson makes) is really good,” Leaptrott said. (He makes) great sauces. His prime rib is fantastic. If you’ve been fortunate to have a gourmet chef cook for you, it is something else. And Ben is 100 percent (a gourmet chef).”

Washougal Times is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (with the bar open until 10 p.m.) Tuesday through Thursday and Sundays; from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (with the bar open until 11 p.m.) on Friday and Saturday. The restaurant features live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.

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