Downtown Washougal loses popular eatery

OurBar, owned by city councilwoman Alex Yost, closes after nearly eight years

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OurBar manager Sara Wakeman serves meals to a group of people at the Washougal restaurant on Nov. 22, 2019. OurBar permanently closed on Oct. 31, 2020. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Earlier this year, Alex Yost quietly identified Oct. 31 as a potential final day for OurBar, her restaurant in downtown Washougal.

Even though she was ready to move on to the next phase of her life for a variety of reasons, Yost struggled with the decision, at least at first. But in the end, she determined that if her eatery was going to close for good, it would do so on her terms and no one else’s.

“(Business owners) have so little control over things right now that it was nice to just give myself a set (end) date, even if I didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said.

Yost indeed closed OurBar’s doors for the final time on Halloween, exactly eight years to the day after she and her then-partner Kevin Credelle signed a lease agreement to bring their vision of “lovingly crafted, homemade and affordable food” to downtown Washougal. OurBar opened six months later at 1887 Main St.

“I joke that seven-and-a-half (months) is 1 million in restaurant years, but the fact is we had a really long run,” Yost said. “I was 26 when we opened, and now I’m a parent and am involved in a lot of other things. At some point, there were more ‘cons’ than ‘pros,’ even when the ‘pros’ were so good. Running a restaurant pulls a lot out of you physically and emotionally. I could change and adapt and do takeout, but ultimately, (the business) got so far away from my original vision that I sort of had impostor syndrome. I would wake up and go to work and say to myself, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.'”

Washougal resident Meghen Bingham wrote in a Facebook post that she’s “heartbroken” about OurBar’s closure.

“OurBar has been such a special part of the Washougal community,” she wrote. “Its unique, cozy and inviting vibe is one like no other I’ve ever experienced. Somehow (Alex) made the simplest of dishes and drinks the most extraordinary. OurBar to me (equals) comfort, warmth, friendship and community.”

Yost, of course, has plenty of other commitments and interests to consume her time. She’s a member of the Washougal city council and the Washougal Arts and Culture Association, and is leading a grassroots effort to bring a performing arts center to the Washougal waterfront.

But she’s going to require some time to fully comprehend that she doesn’t own and operate a restaurant anymore.

“It’s an adjustment for sure,” she said. “It’s weird to not have the keys. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’d be driving home from running errands, pull over and just walk into the restaurant. I’d be like, “What am I doing here? I was so tied to that space. My whole identity was tied to that business. I’d walk around the grocery store and people would call me ‘OurBar.’ They didn’t know my name, but they knew my business. I’ll extract myself from that in time.”

She’s also looking forward to spending more time in another of her roles: mother to her 1-year-old daughter.

“She’ll be 2 at the start of the year, and she’s so smart and so fun and so much work,” Yost said. “Now I’ll have a bit more energy to do that work and be present in a way that I wasn’t before.”

Yost grew up in the Seattle area and graduated from the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland. She worked at several restaurants on the West Coast before moving to Washougal in 2012.

Her vision for OurBar aligned closely with her own personal philosophies about how food can bring people together.

“I’ve always looked at food as not just a necessity, but an opportunity,” she told the Post-Record in 2019. “Everybody has to eat, right? For me getting into the culinary arts, it was so important to take that one step beyond to try to connect people and bring people together. Growing up, even if it was just a smoothie real quick before going to school, my brother, my parents and I could always come together and sit at a table and have a meal, and that was huge for me. It definitely strengthened my bonds with my family. I’m just trying to replicate that with my extended Camas-Washougal family, and even people coming over from Portland.”

Yost has vague ideas about what she might want to do next, but no set plans. She has no doubt, however, that she’ll be aided by all of the things that she learned during the past eight years.

“It was a constant learning process,” she said. “I learned a lot of straight-up business stuff that I did not know beforehand. I learned a lot of things about personal relationships that I didn’t know beforehand. But ultimately I learned that I’m a full- blown risk taker, and I wouldn’t have described myself that way beforehand.

“Even though I made so many mistakes throughout the entire process, right up until the end, I was mindful of learning opportunities. With that solidified personal identity as a risk-taker, I’ll move into the next thing with less self doubt and fear. It wasn’t a perfect experience, but the positives outweigh the negatives in terms of what I gained.”