For the last several months, Mirna Rankin has been selling Mediterranean cuisine out of a small brown and orange building just east of 16th and Summitview avenues.
But the building location, which is on the same property as a self-serve car wash, presents some challenges for her restaurant, Tazzah.
“It’s not the easiest to turn into when you’re coming west from Summitview,” Rankin said. “It’s also hidden because of the car wash.”
Tazzah is trying to thrive in a location where others have failed.
The stand, at 1502 Summitview Ave., previously housed a number of different espresso bars, most lasting just a few months.
Like the Tazzah site, other properties in Yakima are better known as a rotating door for several eateries.
Just up the street, Lutong Pinoy closed its doors recently after a little over a year in business, leaving the building at 1510 Summitview Ave. vacant for the third time in nearly three years.
This summer, La Fonda, a Mexican restaurant just south of the corner of 36th Avenue and Tieton Drive, was in business for only a year when new owners took it over. And prior to La Fonda, the property was home to several short-lived restaurants.
Other food service businesses have attempted to operate at the Yakima Air Terminal over the years. The space has been vacant since 2009.
While it may appear that certain locations appear doomed, experts say that frequent turnover is more a reflection of the ongoing challenges for the restaurant industry.
Jar Arcand has run Santiago’s in downtown Yakima for more than three decades, but he said the last few years have been the most challenging.
A good location is important but other factors, such as rising food and labor costs, are more of a concern.
The other challenge, Arcand said, is getting customers to return after the first three months, which he calls the “honeymoon period.” And that challenge was especially daunting during the recession when people cut back on eating out.
“In this town, it’s tough to pick a good location and it’s tougher to get people established as regular clientele,” he said.
It’s essential for restaurant owners to have a clear plan, said Dennis Reynolds, a professor at the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University.
Many restaurant owners put too much stock in a location based on the equipment already installed because it saves money in the short term,
Those operators should instead identify opportunities that aren’t being filled by existing eateries and determine whether there is a customer base to support their concept, he said.
“With these answers in hand, an operator can be successful in a location where multiple units were unsuccessful,” Reynolds said.
Taqueria El Rinconsito, a Federal Way-based regional fast-casual Mexican chain, has been in growth mode.
After opening and operating 11 locations in the Seattle area, the company expanded east of the Cascades. The chain has opened two locations in Yakima over the past year and has plans to open in Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities in the coming months.
One restaurant, on the southeast corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and Third Avenue, occupies a site that’s seen a number of restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines come and go. Taqueria El Rinconsito president Abel Brambila was drawn to the amount of vehicular traffic at the intersection.
And he believes that his restaurant chain can — and will — break the streak of short-lived restaurants
For one, his restaurant has never closed a location in the 16 years the chain has been in business.
The company also spent more than a year looking at the Yakima Valley and researching demographics before deciding to open here, he said.
And many prospective customers in the Valley are already familiar with the brand, having visited other locations.
“They already know us,” he said.
WSU’s Reynolds agreed, saying a strong, established brand can be critical to overcoming obstacles.
“The brand can also offset location issues because most have tested practices to reduce expenses and can leverage shared marketing,” he said.
After 10 months in business, Tazzah owner Rankin is starting to hit her stride.
“We’re getting busier,” she said. “The response in Yakima has been great.”
That positive response, however, didn’t come without a lot of aggressive marketing. She visited neighboring businesses to hand out menus. She’s also participated in various events, such as A Case of the Blues and All That Jazz at the Yakima Greenway.
She uses a number of brightly colored sandwich board signs to catch the eye of passing motorists.
“You have to do a lot more footwork and (get) a lot of word of mouth,” she said.
Rankin finds that her current location works despite its challenges. And now that she’s starting to see regulars, she feels it would be counterproductive to move now.
“We always kick around the idea of relocating,” she said. But “we like the (building’s) size. We want to be a drive-thru kind of spot.”