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Business Roundup | Ra keeps on trucking with healthy food options

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Rå co-owners Kandis Nestor and David Spann have a healthy business serving healthy food.

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Ra keeps on trucking with healthy food options

WENATCHEE — Ra, the parkside food truck celebrating its second year in business, has evolved into what owners say is the Wenatchee Valley’s go-to place for healthy, organic, vegan, gluten-free and — yes, believe it — yummy offerings.

Things have changed and grown over the last couple of years,” said Kandis Nestor, who co-owns and co-chefs Ra with partner David Spann. “We like to think of ourselves as less of a food truck and more of a quirky, not-so-normal restaurant.”

Housed in an 18-foot-long 1977 Mercedes diesel bus on property next to Walla Walla Point Park, Ra has grown to include an outdoor kitchen (complete with wood-fired pizza oven), outdoor seating area (picnic tables under a large shade canopy), vegetable garden (supplying tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and herbs) and a next-door, off-leash dog park ($10 a month for unlimited use).

The eatery specializes in fruit and veggie smoothies, espresso drinks and teas, sandwiches on oven-crisped homemade flatbreads, salads with organic greens and vegetables and wood-fired pizzas loaded with oven-roasted vegetables and organic cheeses and meats. Check for seasonal specialties, such as raw sushi in sticky rice and pitaya (a type of dragonfruit) smoothies, an “energizing” drink, said Nestor, loaded with antioxidants.

One afternoon last month, during a post-lunch lull, Nestor and Spann fired up a sample of their most popular pizza — The Chef’s Favorite — that included a gluten-free, vegan crust, homemade pesto, caramelized onions, chopped cauliflower and broccoli, mushrooms, goat cheese and crisp prosciutto.

We experiment with all sorts of ingredients and recipes,” said Spann. “We weren’t sure cauliflower and broccoli would make a great pizza, but we said ‘what the heck, let’s try it.’ Now it’s turned out to be a customer favorite — some people come here every week for one.”

The couple also whipped up a Turkey Caprese Flatbread — Ra’s most popular sandwich — as an example of how tasty an organic, vegan, non-GMO concoction can be.” “Customers love it,” said Nestor.

Nestor and Spann said they’ve always leaned towards serving up the healthiest foods possible, but it was only a year ago that they discovered the culinary advantages of organic produce, meats and cheeses.

Everything’s more intense — flavor, color, texture, aromas,” said Nestor. “Now we try to be as organic as possible.”

The pair tend their own on-site garden (no pesticides, of course) for much of the produce they use and shop local farmers markets for the rest.

Nestor and Spann said expansion of their business isn’t over yet. Their catering business is growing — the couple just supplied a barbecue banquet for a wedding at Ohme Gardens — and they’re trying new recipes that fit with special diets for folks with diabetes, food allergies and other food issues.

They’ve also talked with an outdoor recreation company about installing a putt-putt golf course next to Ra, but so far haven’t found an investor for the project.

And we try hard to keep our prices low and affordable,” said Nestor. “We want people to know that eating healthy doesn’t require emptying your wallet.”

Ra, the food truck at the south end of Walla Walla Point Park in Wenatchee. Phone: 630-0784 for call-in orders and dog park info. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (but may stay open later for call-in or special orders). Web: Facebook (keyword: rablends).


Convention Center rolls out new look

WENATCHEE — Installation of new carpet in August capped a $3.1 million remodel of the Wenatchee Convention Center that began nearly six months ago.

It’s looking good,” said Dan Frazier, the city’s public works director.

Since April, contractors have worked between convention center events to spiff-up banquet rooms, meeting halls and entryways, along with updating the heating/air-conditioning and lighting systems.

A grand opening celebration touting the convention center improvements was originally scheduled for August but construction delays pushed the event to Sept. 15. an

Upgrades have included:

Renovation of the 10,000-square-foot Grand Apple Ballroom. New carpet, fresh paint, new lighting and chandeliers and updated HVAC controls top a long list of improvements.

A complete renovation of the 7,560-square-foot Orchard Exhibition Hall, a downstairs all-purpose space that now sports improved lighting, wall decor, carpeting and a new acoustical ceiling.

New carpet and wall treatments in entryways and hallways next to both the ballroom and exhibition hall.

New lighting installed in the upstairs and downstairs lobbies.

The renovations affirm “the Wenatchee Convention Center as a go-to spot for meetings and events,” said Linda Herald, the convention center’s general manager. “We strive to provide the most up to date offerings, both for function and style, and this renovation delivers just that.”

The 50,000-square-foot convention center is owned by the city of Wenatchee and operated by Coast Hotels. For more info, visit wenatcheeconventioncenter.com.


Apple harvest predicted to be third largest

YAKIMA — This year’s apple crop won’t break records, but it’ll still be huge.

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association has predicted that 2015’s crop could hit 125.2 million boxes, down 10.5 percent from last year’s 140 million boxes and just behind 2012’s harvest of 128.3 million boxes.

The 2015 forecast reflects the changing composition of the state’s apple crop, said Jon DeVaney, president of the WSTFA.

While Red Delicious is still the top variety grown with a projected 25 percent of the crop, Gala is close behind with 23 percent, followed by Fuji at 13.7 percent and Granny Smith at 13 percent.

This year Honeycrisp is forecast to come in at 7 percent of the total crop, which would move it past Golden Delicious to become the fifth-ranked variety by volume in the state.

The forecast is based on a survey of WSTFA members across the state and their estimates of apples to be packed, shipped and sold on the fresh market, which excludes apples sent to juice processors.

DeVaney noted that variable weather conditions can affect the state’s apple harvest, which typically runs from August through November.


Register now for final four SCORE workshops

WENATCHEE — Central Washington SCORE will host more workshops that address different business factors and help owners make big business decisions. The workshops run through October.

Each meeting will last about two hours and begins at noon at the SCORE office at 2 South Chelan Ave. The fee is $25 per workshop.

Register by calling 888-2900.

Upcoming workshops:

  • Sept. 8: Financial Fundamentals of Running a Business
  • Sept. 22: Cash Flow Management
  • Oct. 6: Record Keeping and Taxes
  • Oct. 20: Working With Your Banks


Manson business group renamed as Chamber of Commerce

MANSON — The Manson Business Association has officially changed its name to the Manson Chamber of Commerce.

Leaders of the group said Wednesday that the name change fits better with the direction the organization is headed.

We’re extremely serious about Manson and providing appealing and economically-viable business opportunities,” said President Jeff Conwell. “As the Manson Chamber of Commerce, we’re adding legitimacy to our efforts, as well as gaining equal footing with others in obtaining resources for our businesses and community.”

The change is primarily in name only, said Conwell. The Manson Business Association had already functioned under the same federal tax designation as a chamber of commerce and performed the same duties.

We’re still fully supportive of the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, which has done a fabulous job for the valley as a whole,” said Conwell. “But we’re Manson-centric, Manson-focused.”

The Manson Chamber will continue with its current board members and elected positions until the next election later this year. Meetings will also continue at 8:30 a.m. on the last Wednesday of each month at Mountain View Lodge in Manson.


Icicle Brewing nabs gold medal for German chocolate cake ale

LEAVENWORTH — You can have your German Chocolate Cake and drink it, too.

That’s the tagline for Icicle Brewing Company’s Dark Persuasion, a German chocolate cake ale, that’s now available in bottles.

Icicle Brewing announced the release of the new bottled brew Thursday on the heels of the beer grabbing a grand champion medal in the chocolate-cocoa category at the 2015 U.S. Open Beer Championship held this month in Ohio. A total of 562 beers from 146 breweries competed in the annual contest.

Dark Persuasion — described as “delicate dark chocolate with a whisper of coconut” — has been brewed by Icicle for three years as a winter seasonal. Only recently did the brewery decide to offer it in bottles outside their tasting room.

For more info, call the brewery at 548-2739 or visit iciclebrewing.com.


State launches easy way to get copy of reseller permits

OLYMPIA — Misplaced your reseller permit? No worries.

The state Department of Revenue has simplified the process for businesses to view or print their reseller permit, a document that allows approved retailers and wholesalers to buy items for resale without paying sales tax.

Businesses can access their reseller permits on Revenue’s website at dor.wa.gov by signing in and clicking on “My Account.”

Before adding this new feature, a business needing its reseller permit had to contact Revenue and request it be mailed.

To learn more about reseller permits, go to http://ow.ly/Q0DX9.


Hong Kong trade agreement could benefit NCW producers

KENNEWICK — Exporters in North Central Washington could benefit dramatically from a new trade agreement struck recently between Hong Kong and a Tri-City economic group, a spokesman for the local organization said Wednesday.

This program could help every food grower, beverage maker and product manufacturer in the state,” said Gary White, director of business retention and expansion for the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC). “Fruit companies, wine producers and manufacturers in North Central Washington should take notice.”

In the works for months, the agreement between TRIDEC and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council was formally signed Aug. 7 in Kennewick.

The trade agreement provides TRIDEC representatives with “easier and stronger ties” to connect NCW exporters with buyers and marketers in Hong Kong, said White.

He added that the agreement links two economic efforts — TRIDEC’s Strategic Gateway Concept and Hong Kong’s Pacific Bridge Initiative — to designate Hong Kong as a portal for state exports to reach markets in China and other Asian countries.

Hong Kong has repositioned itself to become a service provider for much of Asia,” White said. “Trade, finance, communications, shipping — they’re an important conduit for reaching broader Asian markets.”

In particular, China’s needs fit comfortably into NCW’s and the Columbia Basin’s “food and beverage basket,” said White. “Meat, grains, dairy, fruit, wines and vegetables are what they’re seeking.”

The U.S. supplied over 24 percent of China’s agricultural imports in 2012-13, said White. “That’s a share larger than any other country.”

With 40 offices around the world, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council specializes in doing business with China and other Asian countries.

For more info on the trade agreement, call White at TRIDEC, (509) 735-1000, or email him at gwhite@tridec.org.


Peshastin’s poolside product gets national attention

PESHASTIN — Peshastin inventor Melissa Ortega has seen sales of her company’s Sphinx Inflatable Personal Lounger, um, explode in recent months after snagging product mentions on national TV, magazines, newspapers and websites.

I’ve been working my tail off to promote my product,” said Ortega, owner of Castle & Bay, the online retailer she created to sell the beach-and-pool accessory. “The results have been fantastic.”

For example, on Amazon.com sales of the Sphinx have jumped from two per week to up to 14 per day.

In recent months, Ortega has joined with a group of nine other women inventors in a nationwide push to market their own summertime inventions. Such as: The Bogg Bag, a washable beach bag made of the same plastic as the popular Crocs sandals; the IceHuggy, an adjustable insulated sleeve for freeze sticks and popsicles; Sand Gone, a dry powder that helps remove remove sand from a beach-lover’s body; and Ortega’s Sphinx.

What’s a Sphinx? It’s an inflatable lounger that allows the users to relax comfortably (face up or face down) poolside or at the beach. It comes with a second piece — an inflatable media holder — that props up a book or magazine or iPad. Even better, the lounger comes with its own small cooler for snacks and drinks, and even has a cup holder.

In June, the Sphinx was chosen as a top Father’s Day gift on the Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family show. In July, the Sphinx appeared on NBC’s Today Show as one of summer’s hot products and also grabbed a mention in USA Today. And in August, the inflatable invention appeared in Malibu Magazine, the slick California publication, and will soon be reviewed by Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine for possible inclusion on its Christmas gift list in the December issue.

It’s lots of fun selling something you created yourself,” said Ortega. “Thankfully, business just keeps growing.”

Details: The Sphinx Personal Lounger, $49.95, sold by retailers castleandbay.com, amazon.com, brookstone.com and beachstore.com. Phone: (808) 895-6678.


Courthouse now the super cool place to be

WENATCHEE — While summer baked, it was good to know that the Chelan County Courthouse now has a new high-tech cooling system that will reduce operating expenses, eliminate chemicals in wastewater and likely cool off any hotheads in court.

A national engineering outfit called McKinstry — which has offices in Quincy, Tri-Cities, Seattle and elsewhere — installed the new system in June. In 105-degree heat, they closed the street, brought in a huge crane and hoisted the cooling unit onto the roof.

It takes water for these big systems to work right, and the courthouse’s air-conditioner was no different. So crews dismantled the building’s aging cooling tower, which McKinstry says was near failure, and installed a system that treats the water with electromagnetic pulses instead of costly (about $3,000 a year) and caustic chemicals.

With their big crane in place, McKinstry also removed a large, unused radio antenna from the courthouse roof. And they ran tests on all systems in the building to find out if they could be improved with low- or no-cost improvements. The company estimates this assessment could save the county thousands of dollars in utility costs every year.


Blue Bird to rise from ashes at present site

WENATCHEE — Blue Bird Inc. isn’t going anywhere.

Executives for the fruit company, one of the largest in central Washington, said last month that the company has too much invested in its Walla Walla Avenue property to relocate elsewhere, despite more than $30 million in damage from the Sleepy Hollow Fire more than two months ago.

The company confirmed plans to rebuild on its present site in response to the city of Wenatchee’s intention to explore redevelopment of 70 acres in north Wenatchee that includes the four ag businesses destroyed or damaged by the blaze. Last week, Blue Bird began asbestos removal and demolition of burned structures.

We see too much value in this property to walk away,” said Ron Gonsalves, general manager of Peshastin-based Blue Bird. “We’ve been very clear with the city from the start — we’ll rebuild right here.”

On June 28, the Sleepy Hollow Fire destroyed 30 homes in northwest Wenatchee and sent embers flying more than a mile to ignite industrial properties between North Wenatchee and Walla Walla avenues. Damaged were Blue Bird, Northwest Wholesale, Inc., Michelsen Packaging Company, and Stemilt Growers. Total damage estimates from company execs and fire officials have ranged from $60 to $100 million.

The charred properties are part of commercial acreage along a stretch of BNSF Railway that the city wants to evaluate for other uses. The city council voted in July to seek a $50,000 revitalization grant — to be matched by $50,000 from the city — to study other options for the land.

The study would assess current land uses and new types of development that might be allowed, along with delineating roads, utilities and property lines. No specific development projects have been named, but city officials have said that commercial developers have expressed interest in building in the high-traffic area.

Blue Bird has been first to reveal its rebuilding plans; other businesses affected by the fire are still working with insurance and disaster-recovery crews to assess how to move forward.

Blue Bird’s board of directors “vowed within days to rebuild after this tragic fire,” said Ted Durfey, a board member and cherry grower in Sunnyside. He argued in a recent email to The Wenatchee World that Wenatchee can trace its beginnings — and that of its economy — to agriculture and the fruit industry. “To disregard this existing infrastructure, which provides commerce and jobs … devalues Wenatchee’s heritage.”

Steve King, the city’s community and economic development director, said he understands Blue Bird’s commitment to rebuilding on their present site. “We want to support these businesses and see them get up and running,” he said. “Believe me, we’re not trying to run anybody out of town.”

But local business and civic leaders must realize that cities change and transition, said King, and “often there’s a movement toward higher and better uses for a property.”

He added, “We know for sure that Blue Bird is rebuilding on their present site, but we hope they’ll participate in this study. Looking into the future, we hope they’ll consider all the options.”

In the Sleepy Hollow Fire, Blue Bird lost millions of dollars in buildings, equipment and product — including tons of cherries and organic Red Delicious apples and a new $8 million electronic cherry-sorting line that began operating just 30 days before the blaze.

Gonsalves pointed out, however, that more than 100,000 square feet of controlled-atmosphere storage, bin storage rooms and fruit-packing facilities escaped the fire with only minor damage. In all, the remaining buildings are valued at around $15 million, he said, “and rebuilding elsewhere would require rebuilding these facilities at the new site.”

In addition, Blue Bird’s Wenatchee operation has an annual payroll of more than $4.5 million, said Gonsalves, with crews sorting, packing and shipping more than $60 million in fruit each year.

You can see,” said Gonsalves, “that relocating isn’t a realistic option for us. We’re committed to our site in Wenatchee, committed to rebuilding better than ever.”