Boppin’ with business

Cobalt Designworks owners Jennifer Corio and Dave Frei

Boppin Bo's employee Kara Bowman
Kara Bowman serves up classic eats at Boppin’ Bo’s in Vancouver. The restaurant has been giving customers a taste of the oldies from its Vancouver Plaza location for the past ten years. Photo: Buck Heidrick
Photographs of Marilyn Monroe line the walls alongside impressive models of classic cars. Waitresses don vintage dresses. Guys wear bowling shirts. Elvis Presley ballads emanate from a colorful jukebox. No, you haven’t traveled back in time; you’ve stepped inside Vancouver’s Boppin’ Bo’s Malt Shop and Grill, at the Vancouver Plaza off of Northeast Fourth Plain Boulevard.

The 1950s vibe enjoyed by patrons at Bo’s is not by accident. The restaurant’s interior fits right along with its menu, which includes classic hamburgers, hand-dipped ice cream shakes, fish and chips, even a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

“I would put my burgers up against any of those other burgers and tell you that it’s a superior product, superior burger… it’s a different atmosphere,” stated Betty Bowman, who founded Boppin’ Bo’s back in 2002 with her husband, Larry “Bo” Bowman.

Though the restaurant now celebrates ten years in business at its Vancouver Plaza location, Bowman said it hasn’t always been easy, as a number of tenants have come and gone at the shopping center.

“We have lost WinCo, we have lost Michael’s, Steve and Barry’s, Newport Bay, TGI Friday’s… with so many things missing it makes it really tough for us,” said Bowman. “Luckily… we have good clientele, and we are always looking for new people to come.”

With more than 800 “likes” on Facebook, Boppin’ Bo’s often turns to its digital space to reward loyal customers with exclusive promotions and discounts.

Jukebox at Boppin Bo'sFair game

Boppin’ Bo’s currently employs around 22 employees, but that number dramatically increases during the ten days in August when the Clark County fair is up and running. The Bowman’s originally became involved in the fair back in 1973, selling art and craftwork. After realizing their wares weren’t selling so well, the family decided that food presented a bigger opportunity.  

During their first few years offering food at the fair, the Bowman’s set up shop in an old A-frame building where they sold hot slices of homemade bread with jam for 25 cents. Betty Bowman recalled throwing bread-making parties where family and friends would spend all night baking bread. Eventually, they started selling burgers with onions and slices of watermelon.

Years later, when the fair decided to build a huge food court, the family business was faced with a tough decision, Bowman said.

“We had to pay to get into the food court,” she noted. “And that was anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000… We didn’t know if we would ever recoup that amount.”

In the end, the Bowman’s decided to make the food court investment, which turned out to be “very lucrative,” she recalled.

With a fair staff ranging from 80 to more than 100 employees, it will be hard to miss Boppin’ Bo’s presence at this year’s Clark County Fair. They plan to serve Mexican food, malts, elephant ears, ice cream, Philly cheese steak, chicken, ribs, burgers, halibut and more.

The Clark County Fair runs August 3-12.

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