ILWACO — Travis Weichal always wanted his own restaurant. The dream was sidelined for decades as he helped build a family taxi business in Astoria. Nearly 25 years after his career changed course, Weichal has returned to his culinary roots. In early May he officially opened Trav’s Place in Ilwaco.
“This is what I’ve enjoyed my whole life,” Weichal said. “I was born and raised in restaurants. It was always a dream to open my own.”
Homestyle and handmade
Breakfast and lunch are served all day from 4 a.m. until 4 p.m.
“You can come in and have a burger at 4 a.m.,” said Weichal, who rises at 2 a.m. daily for the 45-minute commute from Astoria to the café from Astoria. Omelets, pancakes, French toast, waffles, hot and cold sandwiches, wraps, pasta, soup and salads are served daily. Weichal has also brought back platter cakes, a popular pancake/crepe cross once served when Weichal worked there under a different owner.
“Twenty years ago, Fred and Nancy used to make platter cakes, a really thin pancake, almost like a crepe, that take up the whole platter,” he explained. “I had to get my grill tuned in, but now I’m making the platter cakes for those that remember them.”
Shortcuts were OK in Weichal’s former career as a cab driver, but not in the kitchen where a ‘homemade and old-school style’ approach is embraced. The fish, chicken strips and chicken fried steak are hand breaded.
“I’ll bread it with my own stuff — I’m old school,” Weichal said. “And if you know what’s going in your food you can tell someone what’s in your food. Some of the pre-breaded products have too many preservatives.”
The gravy is made in-house, Alfredo sauce is fresh to order and the biscuits come from a family recipe. Weichal is mindful of customers with high blood pressure or diabetes and is careful not to salt fries excessively and offers sugar-free jam and syrup. Coffee, tea, juice and soft drinks are available, but beer and wine won’t be part of the plans, mostly due to license and insurance costs.
“I’ll cook with it, but I won’t serve it,” Weichal said.
Pancakes and French toast have been particularly popular at breakfast.
“If someone sees a waffle order, I suddenly have four more coming,” Weichal said.
Reuben, club and Monte Cristo sandwiches have been strong sellers during lunchtime. Bacon cheeseburgers, chicken wraps and taco salads are consistent throughout. Weichal said he has already served hundreds of chicken fried steaks.
Life takes a turn
In the 1990s, Weichal was in his 20s pursuing a lucrative culinary career when his life took a detour. In 1996, Weichal’s mother, Cathy Riser, started Royal Cab taxi service in Astoria.
“I got out of cooking because my mom asked me to come drive cab,” Weichal recalled. Upon returning to Astoria, he focused on the cab service. In 2003, he became the sole owner and increased the fleet from two to eight cars. In 2010, they expanded the business to Pacific County.
“Now it’s up to speed where I can walk away a little bit and start something else, go back to what I enjoy,” Weichal said.
Repair, remodel and replace
Before the café could open for business repairs were necessary. Ford Electric fixed faulty wiring, P & L Johnson Mechanical repaired the refrigerator and Active Enterprises mended leaking gas lines, all part of a $30,000 overhaul that also included a new grill, cold table, tables, chairs, paint and flooring.
“It hadn’t been repainted since the smoking laws changed,” Weichal said. “You could see that the ceiling was smoke stained.”
The task isn’t totally unfamiliar for the new café owner.
“I’ve been in business. I used to turn restaurants around, that’s what I enjoy doing,” Weichal said.
The most important aspect, according to Weichal, is the staff.
“It doesn’t matter where your restaurant is at. If you do the right food at the right price with the right people. Your front and back staff will make or break a restaurant. It’s all customer service. If you treat people how you want to be treated, you’re good.” So far he has largely leaned on friends and family to fill staff positions. Weichal’s wife, Angela, has been helping wait tables and his son-in-law, Lance, is being trained in the kitchen.
“The best thing is now I can spend more time with wife and family,” Weichal said.
As a business owner, Weichal is acutely aware of food and labor costs.
“You want to keep your food costs under 32 percent for breakfast and lunch,” he explained. “My food costs are between 25 to 28 percent.”
The shrimp Louie salad and kielbasa pasta $12.50 and $12, respectively, are the most expensive items on a menu where nearly every entré is under $10. For more information, visit facebook.com/travsplace.net.