Having closed in September 2021, the longtime home of the Kit Carson Family Restaurant in Chehalis stayed vacant for about a year before Seattle Chef Eyner “Rene” Cardona began renovating the building in preparation to open his first restaurant, Ocean Prime, a family dining experience.
He is now weeks away from the grand opening, which Cardona hopes will occur before Christmas. All that’s left to do is to finish up renovations and train the new staff.
The Chronicle met with Cardona and his new general manager, Saul Vargas, to talk about what made them choose Chehalis and their plans for Ocean Prime’s menu.
Cardona began his career working at Ruth’s Chris Steak House and then spent 15 years in the kitchen of BluWater Bistro in Seattle. He chose to leave Seattle for Chehalis to be closer to family, as he has cousins who live in the area.
“I was working hard for this, now it’s time to open my own place,” Cardona said.
Ocean Prime’s menu will be entirely from scratch, according to Cardona, from the sauces and salad dressings to butchering steaks and fileting fresh fish.
“It might take a little bit longer to cook, but everything is going to be fresh. I see in a lot of restaurants that they use pre-made dressings or frozen foods. This is gonna be different,” Cardona said.
The main staples of the menu will be steak and salmon; however, there will be plenty of other items for the discerning palate. On Monday morning, The Chronicle was invited to a menu sampling along with members of Cardona’s family and the owners of the building, Steven and Michelle Blankenship.
Among the menu items included were three varieties of steak: ribeye, dry aged New York strip and tomahawk. All three came out perfectly cooked to a tender medium rare, served with fluffy, house-made mashed potatoes and green beans, among other sides. And speaking of steaks, the surf’n’turf with lobster was a divine combination when cooked by Cardona.
A hand-tossed bleu cheese salad was also sampled that came garnished with candied nuts, red onions and pear slices.
An 8-ounce king salmon filet was also served. Other seafood dishes included clams in butter sauce and prawns in tomato gravy. The hand-pressed burgers were also grilled to perfection, juicy, hot and perfectly balanced with fresh crunch of red onions, lettuce and tomatoes as well as a house-made chipotle aioli.
In the opinion of this reporter, who himself worked for nearly a decade in various kitchens, Cardona knows what he’s doing and is a dedicated and talented chef.
Vargas and Cardona have never worked together before. They met by chance before becoming business partners.
“He went to my dad’s office, he’s an accountant. They went over there and said they ‘were opening a new restaurant, we need a general manager,’ and I was just working for DoorDash and delivering for Walmart,” Vargas said.
Vargas has managerial experience but was working in delivery due to the pandemic. As for his own general manager experience, he worked at Denny’s, for Sheraton Hotels in California and even owned and managed his own restaurant, La Poblanita, located in Bremerton.
Aside from helping complete the renovations, Vargas is working with Cardona to fill up their employee roster for the restaurant’s opening. They are currenting still hiring and looking to fill positions in both the front and back of the house.
Those interested in applying can email their resumes to Vargas at Saulvplata@gmail.com.
Renovations have been going on for several months and nearly everything is new. From the paint on the outside and inside, to the roof and bathrooms, to the kitchen floor and cooking appliances and even the dining room lighting and furniture — it has all been replaced.
“Everything from the old restaurant is gone,” Vargas added.
“We are close. We are now like 90 to 95% ready to open. I give it like two more weeks and we’ll be ready to open. That’s the plan, to open before Christmas,” said Cardona.
When it comes to Ocean Prime’s service itself, cleanliness will be the top priority, they said.
“It’s clean now and we want to keep it like that, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. That’s me, when I’m working with my guys, we close and then we have one to two hours where everybody cleans,” Cardona said. “Now my kitchen is brand new, so we’re going to keep it like that, clean. That helps people enjoy it here. People can come and feel comfortable and have a great meal with family and a great time. That’s how we take care of customers.”
Cardona believes cleaner kitchens produce not only the best food but the safest as well.
“That’s what made me get on his team. He’s gonna be the chef, you know? And this is gonna be his restaurant. That means he’s not gonna quit (cleaning),” Vargas added.
Ocean Prime, located on 107 SW Interstate Ave., will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Menu prices will be set to compete with other family dining establishments in the area such as Ramblin Jacks RibEye, Jeremy’s Farm to Table and The Pasta Bowl, according to Vargas.
No exact date has been set for the grand opening of Ocean Prime; however, The Chronicle will report it when a date is chosen.