Tuesday, July 20, 2010


On January 13, 2006 we were more or less coerced into a meeting with Gene and Tamar Felton to look at the empty restaurant space that was the Star Bistro for 16 (or so?) years, but which had been vacant for nearly a year.  You see, Sieb was the executive chef at Saltoro and he was buying wine for the resto from the same guys that were selling to Gene at the Star Store and they kept telling us we needed to see the space and meet the Feltons.  We had a 2 year old, I had a great job teaching in the Seattle School District.  We weren't moving to Whidbey Island - NO WAY.   These guys, Todd Alkema and Sam Carvey just wouldn't drop it and at the annual Goat Roast after of course too many drinks Sam got us to agree and immediately texted Gene that he was going to bring us up.  Sieb and I looked at it as a day on Whidbey drinking great wine and finally getting Todd and Sam to shut up about it already.  But NO WAY were we even really considering opening a restaurant on Whidbey Island and uprooting our family from a life we really loved.  Which completely explains why 5 minutes after entering into the empty space, no electricity, Gene walking us around with a Coleman lantern, a years worth of dust buildup in a space needing a lot of updating we said to ourselves, "let's go for it!"

We emailed Gene within the next few days and said we were very interested, but there were a few things that needed to happen before we could commit, primarily writing an extensive business plan and securing funding.  This with our vast knowledge of writing business plans and securing funds.  Within a month we had our business plan done and were ready to look for investors, but our first choice was to get an SBA loan from Whidbey Island Bank and with a lot of help from Lauren Pool and Anne Bobinac we secured our loan.  In the meantime we had to finish some major renovations to our home in Seattle, sell it, and find a home on Whidbey Island.  Many friends came together to help us finish the remodel, we put our house on the market and it sold within the first week thanks to the best realtors in the world (my mom and dad), and thanks to Anne Muniz we found this great house right away.   Things kept falling into place very nicely.  But still I kept thinking, WHAT ARE WE DOING???  Luckily it was so crazy and the ball was rolling so quickly and there was no way of stopping to think about it.  Luckily.

SO, we took possession of the space on April 1st, 2006 and we knew that we just had to be open for that summer season to get the revenue stream rolling.  There was a lot to do.  Renovations, licenses and permits, hiring, menu development, new furniture and fixtures, painting, etc.  Thankfully we had incredible support from the Feltons, Gary Riedling handyman extraordinaire (all pictured there sitting at the bar later that first summer, along with great customers Lisa and John Butters), and we were able to pick the brain of Carol Hurless who had run the Star Bistro all those years (Gene's fabulous sister).  We roped Sieb's front of house manager and great friend, Cole Ratliff, from Saltoro into helping us open.  Sieb and Cole moved into the back storage area of the restaurant and spent all of April and May chipping away at the huge list of to do's.  Once our Seattle house closed Netty and I moved in with my parents so I could finish out the school year (teaching).  My sister Rachel and her then boyfriend, now husband, Lucas Clarke were leaving San Francisco and they commited to helping us as well.  Numerous restaurant friends signed on for serving shifts, primarily Kate Cowles, Steph Neesvig and Mike Wilson.  Without them we would have been more lost than we already were.  Which was pretty darn lost.

Fast forward to June 28th, 2006.  Our first day of business.  Our training had more or less consisted of having our new employees spend a week helping us put the restaurant together...assembling the tables and chairs, stocking the wine, setting up the bar and oh yeah... "that's the computer system and this is our menu and that's your first table."  Things were VERY bumpy that first summer to say the least, well that whole first year, actually pretty bumpy for the first 2 years.  But we built up a regular and awesome local clientelle...customers who supported us, believed in us and kept us going.  At the very tip top of that list is Bob French and Bernita Sanstad...the most supportive and positive people I've ever met.  They, along with many others, kept our heads above the water and kept us going with continual positive encouragement.  I started to list our regulars to express our deepest gratitude.  The list is never ending, but I became fearful I'd forget someone and decided that it wasn't a smart thing to do.

Somehow we also decided that summer that it was a great time for me to get pregnant again, so by summer number 2 we also had baby number 2.  Clara became a regular fixture at Prima for the first 6 months of her life.  She had a little crib in the office and our regulars got trained at knowing what the red lights on the baby monitor set up in the bar meant.  Dave Gignac would yell, "Jenn, it's a level 4!"  Dave also has drawn hundreds of his amazing sketches on the back of our comment cards and they are displayed proudly in our back room and on our menu, and the Prima White label that he designed for our special Whidbey Island Winery blend.  Dave also designed and built that cool sign on our back stairs.

So now for the thing that has really allowed us to continue on: our staff.  We are so thankful to them for their tireless and sometimes thankless work.

We feel so fortunate for the quality people who have decided to make Prima their restaurant family.  We have been extremely lucky in retaining many of our crew for long periods of time...which really helps in creating the consistency we strive for.

All in all, the past 4 years have been completely and utterly amazing.  There is nothing more I want in life than to continue raising our family in this beautiful place and serving up tasty meals to our fabulous customers.