Cougar football brings rise in business

Local restaurants see an increase in clients during football season



Mike Wagoner, co-owner of Zoe Coffee and Kitchen, talks about how home football games impact his business on Sunday afternoon at Zoe Coffee and Kitchen.

MATTHEW BADE, Evergreen reporter

WSU football weekends bring new revenue into Pullman small businesses.

Nick Pitsilionis, owner of the Black Cypress, restaurant on Main Street, said he has worked through more than a decade of football seasons. He has lived in the Palouse region since 2004.

“There are periods around graduations that are busy, but they’re short-lived compared to the football season that carries you for a couple months,” Pitsilionis said.

Pitsilionis said the best time to go to a restaurant in Pullman is during a football game.

“They’re not very busy, because everybody’s watching the game, or at the game,” he said.

Pitsilionis said he was born in Greece and grew up in Alaska. He said he worked in both Alaska and Napa Valley, and he traveled before coming to the Palouse.

He said he brought experiences from his background and travels to his restaurant, as do other chefs.

“It’s an American restaurant. It draws upon American traditions, which are eclectic,” Pitsilionis said. “It’s meant to be a place that features and showcases what is being grown locally.”

Pitsilionis said their most popular dish is pan-roasted chicken.

Tawny Szumlas, owner of Rico’s Pub, said her restaurant also benefits from the football season.

Szumlas said football games are among the main drivers of business in Pullman. Locals and graduate students make up most of the summer clientele, but students and parents bring in more business.

“Over the summer, we go into the red. Football games are basically our ‘Black Friday,’ ” Szumlas said.

RealiTea is a relatively new establishment on Main Street, owned and operated by WSU students. It is among the few places in Pullman that offers bubble tea.

Candy Zhong, one of the owners, said summers are difficult times to get revenue. This is especially true when their customers are mostly WSU students. Football brings in more parents, Zhong said.

Mike Wagoner, co-owner of Zoe Coffee and Kitchen, said they are in the process of hiring and training new staff for Cougar Country, which he and his wife bought this year.

Wagoner said there is no time to transition from the slower days in the summer to the packed houses once new students arrive.

Football weekends bring an especially high spike in business, Wagoner said. It offers a challenge, but they look forward to it.

“The most rewarding thing is meeting people,” Wagoner said, “feeding them and making them happy.”

The Wagoners are focused on training new employees at Cougar Country as the football season begins.

Pitsilionis said the Black Cypress will now open on Sundays starting Sept. 15.