New restaurant gives Washougal a taste of the East Coast

Taberna NW, located in downtown Blair Building, opened in November

For the first 20 years of his adult life, Ryon Morrison had what many would consider to be some pretty cool jobs.

His gigs as a mechanic for the United States Army, helicopter technician and product trainer for a drone company allowed Morrison to earn a decent wage and travel the world. But Morrison eventually realized something was lacking and that he didn’t want to work in the aviation field anymore. Actually, he never really wanted to work in the aviation field in the first place. He knew he needed to make a change to find happiness.

“After my son was born in 2015, I got to a point where I wasn’t liking what I was doing anymore,” Morrison said. “Deploying to war zones kind of stopped being cool, and all the dollars in the world weren’t going to make up for time away from my son. I spent 20 years doing something I was good at, but not really happy with. I wanted to show my son, ‘You can be anything you want in this world, and it’s never too late to start over.'”

So, Morrison decided to start over. After resigning from his position at an unmanned aerial systems manufacturer located in Bingen, Washington, in July 2018, the Washougal resident reengaged with his childhood dream of owning and operating a small restaurant.

That dream became a reality in late November 2019, when Taberna NW opened for business in the Blair Building, 1801 Main St., in downtown Washougal.

“It’s a great feeling,” Morrison said. “It’s still pretty emotional for me. It’s good to be doing something that I love; I’m really passionate about food. Things are going really well, to be honest. I didn’t really know what to expect, but the response has been awesome.”

Charissa Moen-Mahoney, a Raleigh, North Carolina, resident who has known Morrison for about 10 years, wasn’t surprised to hear that her friend decided to make a significant life change.

“He had been unhappy in his employment for a number of years, but he was comfortable, and most people don’t leave that comfort to risk it all in hopes of being comfortable again,” she said. “He put his money where his mouth is and put the time and energy into something he truly wanted. There have been a lot of roadblocks along the way that would put a lesser man into the quitting lane, but he’s continued and persevered and worked really hard for this. I’m proud of him.

“In the last few years I’ve seen a lot of personal development, a transformation of his perspective on life, his values, his perception of the world,” she continued. “He used to be pretty negative and pessimistic, so to see him take responsibility for his part in all of it and become determined to make a change has been pretty cool.”

Morrison describes his restaurant, which is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, as “an East Coast-style, New York-style delicatessen.”

Taberna NW serves cold sandwiches such as the Bert (pastrami and mustard on rye bread), the Banh Mi/Banh Vegan (daikon, carrots, mayonnaise, jalapeno, cilantro and Banh Mi sauce on a French roll with either pork loin or tofu) and the Northwest (turkey, hummus, spinach, red onion and red peppers on sourdough). Morrison also serves hot sandwiches such as the Classic Reuben (corned beef and sauerkraut on rye bread with Russian dressing) and the Susan (turkey, shaved green apples and sauerkraut on rye bread with Russian dressing), and paninis, including the Cubano (pork loin, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles on a French roll), the Italiano (ham, capicola, genoa salami, provolone, mustard and olive oil on a ciabatta loaf) and the Caprese (mozzarella, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar on a ciabatta loaf). The new deli also offers a variety of soups and salads.

“I really feel we have something for everybody,” Morrison said.

When Morrison, who grew up in Reno, Nevada, was a child, he went with his father to The Turf Club sports book, which had a small deli tucked back in one corner run by a man named Bert. That experience left an indelible mark on him.

“We’d sit in little wheeled club chairs and have the most amazing sandwich, which (consisted of) rye bread, corned beef and mustard — and that was it. That, to me, is the big influence. The Bert, one of my signature sandwiches, is named after the guy who taught me to love the East Coast-style sandwich,” Morrison said. “So that was kind of the direction that I wanted to go with this. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to alienate the Pacific Northwest crowd. Out here, sandwich shops tend to pile on ingredients, so I didn’t want to go with just meat and mustard. I wanted to offer some other options.”

Washougal resident Sarah Howe said her first experience with the deli was a positive one. She opted for the Cubano, while Pyum Djourabchi, her fiance, had the Bahn Vegan.

“Both sandwiches beat our expectations,” Howe said. “The pork Cubano was full of tender pork and ham, and the French bread was toasted to perfection. It had just the right amount of deli mustard and pickles to complement a perfect sandwich. Pyum said the marinated tofu was full of flavor and had the right consistency for a sandwich. Tofu can be a tough sell if it isn’t flavored well, and Taberna nailed it.”

Morrison believes that his focus on small-batch, in-house production makes his new restaurant stand out.

“For example, we’re going through 15 pounds of potato salad a week,” he said. “Now, I can come in here on Sunday night and boil 15 pound of potatoes and have it all mixed up, but by Wednesday, the sauce, sitting in a refrigerator with the air circulating, starts getting kind of old, and that’s never what I wanted to do. I won’t let it sit there all week. I’ll throw it away before I sell something I’m not comfortable eating myself.”

“My focus is quality, community and customer service, and I think we deliver all three of those,” he continued. “I want to deliver sit-down restaurant quality food at fast-food speeds. I think that’s kind of what we’re doing for the lunch crowd. People can come in here and know that we can get them a really good sandwich in just a couple minutes.”

The restaurant has already earned several positive reviews and repeat customers, including Djourabchi and Howe.

“Vegan options are hard to find in Washougal, so this is a welcome change in our dining experience,” Howe said. “Pyum is vegan and I am not, so eating out locally can be a challenge for us. We needed a deli in town where you can grab a quick bite, have a vegan option and experience the warmth of a small town with its welcoming ownership. Taberna offers the Washougal hospitality that we know and enjoy. We will absolutely be back again and again.”

Morrison was originally going to open his deli last winter in the new “Rig-A-Hut” mixed-use development at Main and 20th streets in downtown Washougal, but balked at what he called high move-in costs. In May 2019, he was introduced to Blair Building owners Bruce and Heidi Kramer, who told him that one of their tenants — Paul Le, the owner of The Sushi Joint restaurant — had recently terminated his lease to focus on his Camas location. A deal between Morrison and the Kramers quickly came together.

“I think this is a really good space,” Morrison said. “It’s 1,000 square feet instead of 670 (at the Rig-A-Hut). This (space has housed) four other small cafes, so the plumbing was all here, and the rough-in (the lines for plumbing, electrical and other utilities) was all done. The Blair was built in 1925, originally as a meat market and butcher shop. I don’t try to delve too much into the symbolism, but sometimes things tie together really well. I think it’s kind of cool.”

In his previous career, Morrison traveled the world and relished the opportunity to sample foreign cuisines — something that has diversified his palate and broadened his perspectives.

He smiles at the memories of receiving a burger and Fanta through a literal hole-in-a-wall at a school in Kosovo, and watching a “chef” slaughter a chicken, then roast it in an old oil drum during his tour of duty in Iraq. Morrison grew up in a Dutch Mennonite family, with a grandmother and great-aunt who served traditional dishes like borscht and verenika.

“I’ve been to a lot of different places, and one of the reasons that I love food is that it brings us together,” he said. “You look at the holidays — everybody usually ends up hanging out in the kitchen or wherever the food’s at. I love the comingling of the cultures and the influence that the different cultures have with regard to food. There’s definitely some influences, and something that I think about when it comes to food production here. We definitely want to start diversifying the flavors and doing different things.”

“Ryon has great taste,” Moen-Mahoney said. “He likes to go outside of his comfort zone to try something new. He’s always been a ‘foodie,’ always loved restaurants, and his creations are usually awesome. He’s there not just to serve food, but to connect with people and create a community environment where people want to return.”

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