Casey Barella spent years developing the perfect chowder recipe. Chowder so delicious, it’s turned skeptics into aficionados.
“It’s one of my favorite things,” Casey says. “When someone says they don’t like chowder, I tell them to sample mine and they end up asking for more. I enjoy getting people started on their chowder journey.”
Casey’s own “chowder journey” began soon after he and his family moved to Long Beach. He and his wife, Gail, started a booth at the farmer’s market, which evolved into a brick-and-mortar location in the fall of 2019.
The Chowder Stop has since become a beast of its own, Casey says. A beast that, with his guidance, intends to keep growing.
We asked Casey to tell us his story–from ending up in Pacific County to building a successful restaurant around his sensational chowder recipes. This is what he shared with us?
Why did you choose to start a business in Pacific County?
We moved to Long Beach because we were looking for a different lifestyle.
We’d been living in Longview, and came out for a clam digging one day. That’s when we asked ourselves, “Why can’t we move to the beach? Are we going to wait til we’re 60 years old to do this?” So I left that summer and took a job on a boat as a commercial fisherman, while my wife and kids stayed in Longview. After that summer I’d made enough money to move the family to Long Beach.
Gail got a job doing hair in Astoria and made pretty good money, so we decided to open up a barber shop–Barella’s Barber Shop in Long Beach.
We started making a little more money than we were used to. And I started to get a little jealous and wanted to employ my own skills. So I decided to get something going at the farmer’s market. That’s when I went through all the phases of buying equipment and getting all our ducks in a row. Meanwhile, I was developing the chowder recipes.
Our current location opened on October 3rd, 2019. Then it was non-stop work. And I’m a workaholic, so I haven’t stopped since.
What is unique about your business?
The way that we built it, and how all of it came together.
My chowder itself is unique from everyone else’s because of the flavor. Our slogan is “Step into the Taste.” And it’s true, it’s an experience. The numbers reflect that: in the past three years, we’ve sold 79,000 cups of chowder.
Not to mention there’s a lot of effort that goes into running this restaurant. I tell all my employees that even I work for the Chowder Stop. It’s like a breathing thing–like it has its own heartbeat. One of my goals is to pay off our building, then–insane as it sounds–I want to tear it down. I can’t build out, but I can build up. I’d also like to sell my chowder in stores, and maybe one day I’ll become the Tillamook of chowder!
What made you choose your industry?
I’ve been cooking for over 20 years.
I helped open Hop-n-Grape in Longview. Then the Longview Country Club. So this is the third restaurant that I’ve put together–but this one’s my own.
It’s taken a lot of prior knowledge to get to know where I’m at right now. It’s been a long, long road, stopping many different places along the way.
If you had to do it all again, is there anything you would have done differently?
The first thing that pops in my head is opening up right before COVID. But of course, nobody could’ve known about that.
But COVID really messed me up, because I’d only been open for 6-8 months before it hit us. I had a hard shutdown, then a reboot.
I was selling chowder–just my wife and I–out the window. I had a walk-up window, no employees, and I almost flopped. It was really, really hard and I didn’t really get any relief. About $7,000 in grants was all. It was the locals that kept us going.
How do you view your role in the community?
We’re community-driven and very involved. I’m a board member of the Merchants Association, and there are a number of other ways that we’ve gotten involved in these five years of living here.
We also do a lot of vocal support, and I do food drives for the community. At the barbershop, Gail gives free haircuts to all the kids going to their school dances, and we’ll set them up with suits and all that.
And I’ve been giving locals a 10% discount, because I can’t do any of this without their support.
If you had a piece of advice to offer someone starting a business in Pacific County, what would it be?
I say this all the time to everybody: Don’t stop. Once you stop and you lay down, you stay down.
I still go to farmer’s markets and talk with all the small businesses and try and speak a little inspiration to them. Because I was there; I was part of that clan. Don’t ever forget about the little guys that always pay it forward. And that’s how you can keep going: Look at the people that look to you.
For any aspiring business owner in Pacific County, here are a few key takeaways from Casey’s experience:
- It’s not too soon to work toward the life you’d prefer to live.
- Keep up your momentum, and stay focused on your goals.
- Support the locals, because they’re the ones who support you at the end of the day.
- Start small and work your way up. There’s no limit to how much you can grow.
- Engage with small-business owners who are starting where you did. Foster camaraderie.
- Lead by example. Be the inspiration for others to keep moving forward.