Wooden City is one of eight participating restaurants in Downtown Tacoma Partnership’s Hero Meals program, which turns donations into meals for healthcare professionals, emergency first responders and other frontline heroes in the South Sound. Tacoma Defiance and the Rainiers are helping raise funds for Hero Meals through an initiative called R Hat R City, where $5 from every hat sold from the We R Tacoma Team Store is going straight to Hero Meals.
In the fall of 2018 Wooden City opened their doors to Tacoma. Their angle was category defying – good pub food served with an air of professionalism similar to fine dining. With some of Tacoma’s best service and a restaurant that’s as comfortable as it is visually stimulating, their warm woods, draft Old Fashioned, and wood-fired ovens won the hearts of everyone who tried it. The “high-end standards with the approachable menu” were a hit, making it quickly one of the city’s best restaurants and a place where getting a coveted table was tough. Not just on weekends.
Now, 18 months later, the owners and staff have had to re-invent Wooden City. The COVID-19 pandemic and eventual orders from Governor Inslee forced a dramatic change. Wooden City had never done delivery food before, but now they would have to do so. Or close their doors.
Abe Fox and Jon Green essentially had to open a new restaurant – during a global pandemic – without changing the style of food. Those hectic days were a test for Green.
“It almost felt like when we opened in the first place – there was that much energy, and that many hours put in. We had to do a completely new menu, order guides, prep sheets, kitchen schedule, new cooking systems, build an online ordering platform. Stuff I didn’t know how to do. It was wild.”
Now, Wooden City is doing delivery (near downtown) and carry-out. You can get a Fancy Burger, Beet & Avocado Salad, and the “Draft” Old Fashioned Cocktail kit to re-enact what you love about Wooden City, but safely and at home.
That’s Executive Chef Jon Green’s favorite meal on the online menu now. The options are different from the original sit-down experience, as Green focuses on things that travel well.
The menu also shifts depending on what’s available or simply a spark that inspires Green in this uncertain time. As the community rallies around essential workers like chefs and delivery people, Jon turns his attention back to Tacoma.
“Even before COVID-19 we’ve always felt just insanely grateful for how the community has responded to Wooden City in general. We’ve always felt an incredible amount of love and appreciation – that fuels us. When we see that and we feel that, it makes us want to do more and to be better versions of ourselves.”
Every order, at every restaurant, during the pandemic is a blessing and gift from Tacoma to the people of Wooden City and other eateries.
A huge part of the restaurant’s current model is that it allows Green and Fox to retain some of their staff.
“Now, the fact that we’re able to stay open and provide jobs for any of our staff members that wanted to come back to work puts us in a category where we’re one of the luckiest percentile of restaurants in the country. We don’t want to take that for granted. We always think about how lucky we are to have support from Tacoma.”
Wooden City is giving back as well. They are one of many downtown Tacoma restaurants participating in the Hero Meals program. For a $25 dollar donation, three Tacoma first responders or medical personnel get meals from local businesses like Wooden City.
The Tacoma Rainiers and Tacoma Defiance are supporting all eight participating restaurants by donating $5 from every team hat sold through an initiative called R Hat R City. Check out the We R Tacoma Team Store to buy a new Tacoma lid and support Wooden City, other Downtown Tacoma restaurants and local frontline heroes.
That program and those that dine with all Tacoma and South Sound restaurants in these times bring joy to Chef Jon. Jon and Abe are in an industry that is connected. Before the pandemic, a guest might visit a neighborhood bar, have dinner at Wooden City, and then drift somewhere else for a nightcap.
The whole industry supports each other. They are friends as much as they are competitors. All cogs in a greater wheel that makes this city a first class for one for entertainment and dining.
With some time to reflect, and over a month into this new way of life, Green has an ask for the people of Tacoma that can afford to order out during these “dark times.”
“Support the community and support local businesses – not just us. All of our friends in the industry together make it what it is. Our friends at other bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and local delivery drivers – it’s interwoven. We have to support all these small businesses or the entire thing crumbles.”
That support over the past two months is strong. Wooden City is getting orders from people who want to have just a tiny bit of normal in a time that is anything but.
“People overall are excited about the fact that they can order Wooden City and get food at their doorstep. A lot of us wanting any type of normalcy, or to be able to have a bit of fun. You can tell that people can’t go out so they’re trying to recreate the experiences at home. It’s bringing people a little bit of joy and happiness. To be able to do a bit of that during these dark times is insanely gratifying.”
Their customers are sharing images of post-delivery meals from inside homes, back decks, and patios. Maybe a photo of a cocktail kit enjoyed as a strong single serving. Without the social interaction of the high-end experience at the tables of Wooden City, those interactions are now on Instagram and through short conversations on the doorsteps of Tacoma.
Jon and Abe don’t see themselves as heroes (but all essential workers are). The essential work is just work that needs to be done; work that brings people small joy and inspiration when those sensations are a premium.
Wooden City will keep doing that until they don’t have to anymore.
About Tacoma Defiance
Tacoma Defiance is the USL Championship affiliate of reigning MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders FC. You can follow The Future of Champions on Twitter (@TACDefiance), Facebook, and Instagram (@tacdefiance). We are #DefiantlyTacoma.
We R Tacoma Team Store
More information on social distancing and how to prevent the spread of Covid-19 can be found at Tacoma-Pierce County Health. The most up-to-date information on how COVID-19 is affecting events at Cheney Stadium can be found here.