Family Focus for New Chef at The Juice Box Public House


There’s something about a good meal that brings people, especially families, together. For Carson Lotton, new chef at The Juice Box Public House in downtown Centralia, family is at the core of every dish that leaves his kitchen. 

“When I cook, every dish I make I treat it as if I'm cooking for family,” he said. “The dish before it goes out: Would I feel happy giving that to my mom or my grandma? It’s part of what keeps the quality in it. And my heart goes into it. I’m a family man.”

Working in local warehouses wasn’t working out for Lotton by the time the recession hit in 2008. His family encouraged him to pivot careers based on a skill he developed to get by. 

“I’d been working jobs around town, mostly warehousing and production. Then it’s 2008, the housing crisis and kind of the whole recession. I was going from job to job. I was always the new guy and always the first to get laid off. During that time, I was on unemployment, trying to figure out how to pay my bills,” Lotton said. “I started having friends over and they’d bring food. I basically turned my apartment into a little restaurant ... I did all the cooking, cleaning, entertainment … My family said, ‘Hey, you’re getting pretty good at this. Maybe you should pursue a culinary career.’”

Lotton was granted federal worker retraining funds, which he took with him to culinary school at Clover Park Technical while his wife, Mary, attended Pacific Lutheran University. He quickly discovered a passion that few other projects had ever provided him. 

“I went in early, stayed as late as I could, learning culinary, different techniques and absorbing as much as I could. Almost created my own curriculum. I did the regular things but also more that they didn’t teach like charcuterie and making sushi,” Lotton said. “I was teaching the other students what I was learning … I really dove into that world and created myself. It was the first thing other than video games that I really immersed myself into.” 

Lotton worked at several places in Tacoma, including Hilltop Kitchen and Marrow, before moving back home and working at Talking Cedar in Rochester. When Lotton’s high school friend, Josh Bower, started as beer manager at The Juice Box Public House, owned by their mutual friends and fellow 2004 Centralia High School graduates Levi and Sarah Althauser, one thing was immediately clear to him: 

“I knew that we were in dire need of a phenomenal chef,” Bower said. “This was a good opportunity, so I passed that along to Sarah and Levi … It’s the best food I’ve had, ever. A lot of places over the world I’ve told them it’s the best burger, but his is.”

Lotton admits he greatly prefers to stay out of the spotlight, but is confident in the quality of food he sends out of his kitchen.

“I make food that makes people speechless.” 

Levi Althauser credits Bower and Lotton with a drastic rise in quality at The Juice Box Public House since they first opened, echoing Lotton’s statements about the level of culinary expertise Lotton brings to the table.

“A lot of people might say that and they’re just being cocky, but Carson says it and it’s actually true,” Levi Althauser said. “The quality of our beer has gone up dramatically already since we first started, and Josh is super excited about beer. It’s fun because they’re both friends. Josh is running the front, Carson is running the back. We’re all friends … What was once primarily a taproom and small kitchen is now a full restaurant and music venue that is drink forward with over 40 options on tap, a quickly expanding wine list and cocktails at our stage bar to debut at the end of April.” 

“It’s like a reunion,” added Sarah Althauser. 

One point of proof is in the mushrooms. Levi Althauser can’t stand fungi, but every mushroom dish Lotton has made since joining the team has been one of his favorites. 

“When we were originally going to open this place, they asked me if I wanted to figure out the food. I don’t know how to do that piece,” Sarah Althauser said. “When Carson came on, I was like, ‘Yes! You’re making my dreams come true.’ I don’t even have to say what they are. He just does it. I’m very excited for what he brings to our community.”

Owning a family friendly public house and having four kids of their own, family and the focus on it is deeply rooted in the Althausers and their business. Their friends who work there become a part of their extended Juice Box family. 

“We had a little getaway at our Airbnb, and we had Carson bring his family. Seeing him there with his family, with our little guy Atlas … This is a big piece of who we are. It’s a big deal to me,” said Sarah Althauser. “I love seeing him with the kids in the back, showing them how things work.” 

Family is so much a part of the reason Lotton discovered a passion for cooking, and what drives him to put so much love into every dish. 

“I do a lot of this because I just want to make my family proud. … I was just thinking about my grandma who passed, and I wish I could have cooked for her,” said Lotton, speaking of his Grandma Ladeva. “She taught me about clarified butter and cooking with that. She taught me how to have fun in the kitchen. With food there’s a lot of nostalgia: In the movie Ratatouille, when the guy flashes back to his mom’s ratatouille? I get that when I cook, and I want to create that for people. I always tell people I cook like a grandma. No measurements, just a little bit of this, little of that, some dancing.”

Lotton has created something of a family in his kitchen staff as well, bringing them closer together and always being willing to teach them what he knows. 

“I’ve heard the other kitchen staff say that he pushes them in a good way,” said Bower. “Everybody’s said how they appreciate how you lovingly push them, it helps the team to be better.” 

Working with a team of long-time friends, the level of trust and collaboration is evident in the quality they produce together. The new menu, launched March 31, is packed full of fun pop culture references that are clearly the result of good times with good friends doing good work. 

“It’s fun to get to figure out what goes up on the screens, and get to try stuff I wouldn’t normally try,” Bower said. “And then have Carson make different meals that pair with them, it’s fun to do that with him because then we both get to sample food and beer!”

Lotton and Bower recommend pairing the Black IPA from Ecliptic and Fort George (new on tap) with the lamb burger.  


Upcoming Events at The Juice Box  

April 1: Live music with Ellie Buzzard & Brad Parsons

April 5: Adult Lego Club with Timberland Regional Library

April 7: Live music with Jeremy James Meyer & Matt Mitchell Music Co. 

April 8: Pints & Poses

April 8: Night Market 

April 10: Washington School Bingo

April 12: Cribbage 

April 12: Painting class 

April 13: Swing Dancing 

April 14: Benny GIlbert & Jerry Potter

April 15: DJ That Guy

April 19: Silent Comedy Music & Ashtown Brewing Tap Takeover 

April 20: Reb & The Good News & New Victorian 

April 21: EDM Rave Night

April 22: Rogue Planets 

April 24: Raise for Rowyn Bingo 

April 27: Swing dancing & Packmule Pickups

April 28: HUB Comedy

April 29: The Scoffs


Regular Events: 

Monday Nights: Beer Bingo 

Tuesday Nights: Open Mic Night

Wednesday Nights: Book Club (all books welcome)