Longtime restaurant owner shares thoughts on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on area restaurants


Russell Brent was forced to close his Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground shortly after the pandemic started

Russell Brent knows all too well the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the restaurant industry. Earlier this spring, Brent was forced to close his Battle Ground restaurant, the Mill Creek Pub, due to restrictions placed on the restaurant industry by Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive orders.

Owner Russell Brent (pictured, front center) emptied out all of the walk-ins when he closed his Mill Creek Pub restaurant in Battle Ground and he and his staff prepared food boxes for some churches in the area. Photo courtesy of Mill Creek Pub
Owner Russell Brent (pictured, front center) emptied out all of the walk-ins when he closed his Mill Creek Pub restaurant in Battle Ground and he and his staff prepared food boxes for some churches in the area. Photo courtesy of Mill Creek Pub

On Friday, Brent shared his own experiences as well as the current state of regional restaurants in a Zoom meeting with members of the Vancouver Sunrise Rotary Club. Brent issued a dim view of the immediate future for restaurants. 

“In the next two weeks as soon as the weather changes, outdoor dining is going to go away,’’ Brent pointed out. “We are going to see restaurant failures galore; bankruptcies all over the place.”

In the aftermath following the March 16 lockdown announced by Gov. Inslee, area restaurant and bar owners worked with elected leaders. They lobbied various government agencies to allow outdoor, streetside dining and liquor “to go” in addition to take-out service. They also created “parklets,” using streetside parking spaces where outdoor tables were placed for patrons to be seated and served.

The governor created a four-phased set of rules for businesses to reopen. Included was the six-foot rule for indoor dining to insure safety for both employees and restaurant and bar patrons. 

“The governor has said that he’s not going to change the six-foot rule on inside dining until there is a vaccine,” said Brent. “That means we’re into perpetuity, and he doesn’t appear to be willing to change.”

As owner of Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground, Russell Brent was always involved in efforts to serve his community. Here, Prairie High School Air Force JROTC cadets Heather Lee, Nate Garate and the Corps Commander Nikki Wilson, Brent and combat veteran Travis Cottrell, with his Northwest Battle Buddies dog Ranger, are pictured as the group presents a check to NWBB. Photo courtesy of the Battle Ground School District
As owner of Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground, Russell Brent was always involved in efforts to serve his community. Here, Prairie High School Air Force JROTC cadets Heather Lee, Nate Garate and the Corps Commander Nikki Wilson, Brent and combat veteran Travis Cottrell, with his Northwest Battle Buddies dog Ranger, are pictured as the group presents a check to NWBB. Photo courtesy of the Battle Ground School District

According to Brent, “the most significant problem that we have is going to be this six-foot rule.” Restaurants need the busy Friday-to-Sunday traffic, which is often close to 100 percent occupancy. 

“How can we increase occupancy and still maintain safety for our guests that are inside the restaurant,” Brent continued. 

Brent said that unless more federal funds are approved to aid business owners, many won’t be able to make ends meet. 

“None of us are going to survive without the second round of PPP,” Brent said. “The Washington Hospitality Association is getting volunteers calling all of these establishments, and asking them those very questions. ‘Are you open? Are you going to make it?  How long do you think you can survive? How many employees have you lost.’’’

Brent said the data is being collected and will be distributed as soon as they get a large enough sample. “We’ve had two volunteers quit because they couldn’t listen to the story of these restaurateurs as they start to ask these questions,” Brent reported. “This is pretty brutal.”

Brent and local restaurant owners are reaching out to try to help owners of smaller restaurants. The Northwest Wine and Food Society created a “Restaurant Reboot” effort, with plans to keep small restaurants and bars open in the midst of current COVID-19 restrictions. They hope to give $2,000 grants to small restaurants in the area, where the money can make a difference in keeping their doors open.

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About The Author

John is a retired airline pilot, serving Delta for over 31 years. Prior to Delta, he served in the US Air Force for 11 and a half years; three and a half years as a Public Affairs Officer and eight years as a pilot. John flew multiple airplanes around the world for Delta, retiring as a B-767 Captain. During his 31 years at Delta, John served as a member of the pilot’s union leadership, representing the Portland-based pilots for five years. John got involved in area politics during the Columbia River Crossing debate. He became a citizen activist, speaking out against wasteful spending and fighting for common sense transportation solutions. He ran for the Washington state legislature twice, a Representative position in 2014 and Senate in 2020. John is the eldest of six children. He remains extremely close with members of his family and lives in Oregon and Washington. He has 14 nieces and nephews and a growing number of “grands” in the next generation. John has enjoyed skiing, scuba diving, travel, and time on his Harley when he’s not busy with local issues or flying.

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