Life in the Slow Lane cruises closer to an opening date

Donna and Tracy Black continue to work their way through the endless details of preparing to open a new restaurant near the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

An opening date remains elusive for Donna and Tracy Black’s 1920s and ‘30s themed restaurant, Life in the Slow Lane, but the couple are continuing to narrow down the restaurant’s eventual offerings.

Work continues on the site, which now sports the restaurant’s logo on a custom-designed sign and drywall inside the upper-floor dining area. Lighting and cabinets are expected to be in the building soon, as the business inches toward its eventual opening.

The restaurant has been more than a year in the making, after facing setbacks stemming from hiring the right contractor, finding vendors and, now, getting the equipment for the restaurant. Donna and Tracy are working on the project on their own time, which has meant cutting back on their own volunteer work.

“This is more than full-time, way more than full time,” Tracy said.

Donna and Tracy are still narrowing down the exact offerings the restaurant will carry, a process that included a two-day trip to a gelato university and trips to Portland food conventions to feel out vendors for some of their products.

Their efforts have included completing the landscaping on the property, a four-day project, Donna said. That meant working with city requirements.

Tracy has spent significant portions of time laying tile at the back of the restaurant, as well, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of people, when I’ve been out there working on the tile and stuff (who) walk by and ask me about the place,” Tracy said.

The Blacks haven’t narrowed down their hiring plans yet, they said — that decision will wait until they can hold practice runs at the restaurant to determine what the flow and demands of an open restaurant will be.

“We’re looking into other things for hiring as well, to help people in the community,” Donna said.

That includes possibly working with Tongue Point Jobs Corps, a Department of Labor education and training program for people between 16 and 24 years old. The organization offers a culinary sciences discipline, which would allow participants to work at Life in the Slow Lane as part of the program, Donna said.

The couple will have to decide whether the program is a good fit with the restaurant, they said.

“To me, it might be a nice way to help some kids,” Donna said. “I used to co-op students when I was a teacher and I know what it involves, so I want to find out what they do.”

Finding the right equipment, and the right vendors to buy it from, has been another step in the process, said Dick Powell, a small business advisor with the Clatsop Small Business Development Center, who has been working with the Blacks since the start of the project.

“There was a lot of figuring out exactly what you needed and how much space you had for it and all those kinds of things,” Powell said.

The process hasn’t been without its hiccups — much of the equipment has been delivered, but not all of it came intact, the Blacks said. Important items, like the restaurant’s steam table, have arrived damaged, they said.

The table was returned for repairs, a process that should be complete by the end of the year, they said.

They’ve had similar struggles with employee lockers, which have been delivered three times, and each time had to be sent back because they were damaged.

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