820 Bistro makes retro move

Photo by Roger Werth

Bryan Burt, co-owner of 820 Bistro restaurant in Kelso, is planning to restore the lunch counter in the old Woolworth's building in downtown Longview to become a part of his eatery when it moves in later this year. Many of the old furnishings still adorn the lunch counter area and will be used in the remodel.

One local restaurant is moving back to the future.

The popular but somewhat hidden 820 Bistro, now located near the base of Beacon Hill, plans to move into the former Woolworth's Building in downtown Longview and revive the five-and-dime's old lunch counter.

The old Woolworth's, located at Commerce Avenue and Maple Street, now houses a pawn shop, though the Woolworth's name still is embedded into the tile entryways. The 820 Bistro will retain its name and share space with the pawn shop, but the Bistro will be walled off and have its own entrances.

Owners of the 820 Bistro said their location at 820 West Side Highway is not visible enough and is out of the way for Longview-Kelso area clientele.

"Our lunch business hasn't been what we thought it would be," said Bryan Burt, who co-owns the 820 Bistro with his wife, Christina. "We weren't really looking for a new place, it came to us. (Building owner Scott Vydra) asked us to take a look at the space. … And we just fell in love with it."

"I think what 820 has to offer will fit in well downtown," said Vydra, who bought the building from Dwight Irby a year ago.

The Burts won't offer the basic ham-and-eggs style menu that Woolworth's offered at the counter from 1949 until it closed in 1991. They feature salads, pasta, seafood, and meat dishes, and they'll also sell coffee, espresso and breads and pastries made in-house.

"We'll have more of a continental breakfast thing in the morning — a place where people can stop in before work," Burt said.

They'll also have 48 seats, up from the 25 they have inside their current location. The move will require the Burts, which now run their restaurant as a family business, to hire a staff of about eight, he said.

They're planning to restore as much of the space to its original 1950s appearance.

"It won't be the soda fountain it was, but the integrity will still be there," Burt said. "We'll serve what we do. We might even have some nostalgia places — a supreme grilled cheese for something."

The space still needs work, but the wood counter and neon signs still adorn the walls. However, only one of the 20 black and silver stools remain at the counter.

Initially, the Burts will offer breakfast and lunch only in the downtown location, adding dinner when they shut the down West Side Highway location in October.

Burt said the Bistro will be an option to eat and hang out after performances at the Columbia and Pepper theaters, which are a block away. Hours are not set yet, however.

Donna Burnett of Longview said she worked in the Woolworth's after high school and ate at the lunch counter.

"I took my kids there one last time before it closed," Burnett said. "Now I can take my grand kids there again when it opens."

Burnett said the reopening of the lunch counter will add to Longview's downtown revitalization efforts downtown.

"A traditional lunch counter isn't something you see anymore," Burnett added.

The addition of the 820 Bistro expands the evolving downtown restaurant scene. John and Sandra Dutra, of Cupertino, Calif., bought the Mount Hood building at 1256 Commerce Ave. last month and plan to find tenants to start a restaurant in the space Cibo Con Amici restaurant occupied.

Joy Harris, owner of The Brits restaurant in downtown Longview, said more restaurants will help attract more people and help downtown grow.

"If we get closer to looking like Northwest 23rd (Avenue) in Portland, the better we'll be," Harris said. "Because there, I don't plan where I will eat, I just walk around and decide. And as long as nobody does high teas, I'll be fine."

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