EAST WENATCHEE — The Pangborn Cafe in Pangborn Memorial Airport is reopening after being empty since early 2019.
Jeff Kirkley, a retired tech entrepreneur in Orondo, has taken over the cafe. He does not yet have a firm opening date but expects to be fully operational before Thanksgiving.
Airport Director Trent Moyers said the cafe was vacant for so long due to COVID, which made the prospect of starting a food service business very challenging. The airport will charge Kirkley $350 a month in rent (the same it charged the previous tenants, Conservative Union Enterprises and rental car franchise Avis/Budget).
“We’ve kept the rent low with the understanding that total overhead expenses associated with operating the cafe can make it difficult to succeed,” Moyers said. “Mr. Kirkley’s business experience and his enthusiasm to operate a successful café that could both serve the flying public and the surrounding communities are what made his proposal of interest.”
Moyers added that the airport’s agreement with Kirkley includes a clause stating that if the cafe earns more than $4,000 a month, the airport will receive a percentage of the gross receipts.
Kirkley said his decision to pursue reopening the cafe goes back to the frequent traveling he did as a tech entrepreneur — sometimes over 45 flights in a year. Before moving to Washington to California a few years ago, he also frequented Pangborn Memorial Airport to see family in the area. He said after becoming accustomed to having food service at airports, that was something he missed at Pangborn after the cafe closed.
For him, the cafe is a “food startup,” meaning that in addition to a core menu of traditional airport fare like coffee, sandwiches, burgers and salads, he also wants to throw in some more unique items, including a four-generation recipe for French dip or his fiancee’s Chinese dumplings, which she sells through her own business, Cute Dumplings.
“I really want to have fun with this and evolve it,” he said. “We’re not part of a large organization that has a kind of set-in-stone menu.”
He added that since the cafe is not past the TSA security checkpoint, he hopes the restaurant can service the local community as well, particularly as new commercial and residential developments pop up near the airport.
“I haven't noticed any food establishments that way. It’s a bit of a need,” he said. “I feel a bit of a calling to give folks that are working and living in that immediate area a choice so they don't have to maybe drive farther down into town.”
He said he plans to be open afternoon flights from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Alaska.com is currently showing flights departing Pangborn at 5:30 a.m. and 3:16 p.m. and arriving at 1:40 and 11:11 p.m. each day, though Moyers said the schedule is somewhat variable and subject to change.
Kirkley said he might never arrange hours to be open to late-night flights like the 11:11 p.m. one.
"Anyone that late, and I used to fly that one almost weekly, only has getting home on their mind. No interest in dinner or anything profitable that late," he said. He expects to be open four to five days a week initially, but may move to six as flights are added.
“Our valley is enjoying a really wonderful growth period here, and I'm imagining that travel will similarly experience some very nice growth,” he said. “What I’d like to do is meet that demand and grow with that demand, and that's my intention.”