By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“The restaurant business is very competitive,” said Kris Nelson, who recently opened Addie Mae's Southern Kitchen at 634 Water St., the former home of the Salal Cafe.
“But you have a chance of success if you listen your customers and pay attention to what they want,” she said.
Port Townsend also has seen so far this year the opening of the Cellar Door at 940 Water St., and the retooling of the Castle Key Restaurant and Lounge in Manresa Castle at 651 Cleveland St.
It's not all roses, as the new openings coincide with the closing of Dream City Market Cafe, which was south of town near Kala Point.
But the other owners approach the future with optimism, while acknowledging they face an uphill battle in this economy.
“I guess I'm a little crazy,” said Bob Saring, the Castle Key's food manager.
But, he said, “I've been in this business since I was 13 and have been doing this all my life.”
Nelson, who is also Port Townsend's deputy mayor, at least is forewarned as she also owns and operates Sirens Pub and the Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar and in the past has owned the Fountain Cafe and Jordini's.
“The profit margin in a restaurant is 6 percent, or in good years, it can be 10 percent,” Nelson said.
“This compares with operating a hotel, which can be as high as 40 percent,” she said.
Nelson said that she doesn't have a grand plan for her restaurants. She has ideas and develops them with regard to the space that is available.
She and the place's chef, Chris Harris, have had the idea of serving Southern food for some time.
The opportunity arose after Salal closed, and now the two are offering such delicacies as fried pickles, fried chicken and waffles, and a BLT on Texas toast.
The Cellar Door's subterranean feel is meant to offer something new instead of repeating what is already available, said Domininc Svornich, one of the four partners involved in the venture.
“There are 41 places that sell prepared food in Port Townsend,” Svornich said.
“But none of the really exciting things that are happening in every city are going on here, like infusing your own liquor or creating your own sodas.”
The Cellar Door doesn't offer a predictable experience.
Most of the items on its menu are specials that change from day to day: Chipotle Buffalo balls, tuna cakes and apple jacks were recently mentioned on the places' Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CellarDoorPT.
It also defines itself by stating what it is not.
It is not open for lunch, since there are plenty of local lunch options. It is not a place to get cheap beer and a series of shots, and it is not a place where the customer is rushed.
“A lot of places have a pattern; you come in, get your water, your drinks, your entree, dessert and then they try to turn over the table,” Svornich said.
“We're providing a place that isn't rambunctious, where people can come in and sit for awhile.”
The Cellar Door, located down a set of steep steps on Tyler Street, has been the location of three closed restaurants in as many years.
“It's a basement. You need to accept that,” said Diana Phillips, one of the partners.
“It's not a place where you have a deli sandwich or put up a potted plant and pretend you are outside.
“It's underground and needs to have a speakeasy feel.”
Saring's venture at Castle Key already has a reputation and a clientèle, on which he seeks to build.
“We have a fair local following, but I'd like to expand that,” Saring said.
“I want to reach out to the locals who have never come in.
“I can't tell you how many people that tell me they were born and raised in Port Townsend but have never eaten here.”
Saring said the attitude stems from a time when Manresa Castle was more exclusive than it is now.
“I've put together a whole new menu,” Saring said.
“We still have the high-priced meals, but I want people to know they can come in here and get a slab of ribs for eight bucks.”
Saring also has ceded the lunch business to other restaurants.
Restaurants that succeed need to maintain their identity and keep changing, according to these entrepreneurs.
“If you are not changing and growing, you are dying,” Nelson said.
“You need to stay true to your vision, because someone else will also come along with a better idea.”
Said Svornich: “We don't ever want to become stagnant, and plan to change our menu eight times a year.”
Fins Coastal Cuisine owner Joann Saul, who closed the Dream City Cafe, is wondering what these new venture owners are thinking.
“I can't believe they are doing this,” she said.
“Success in the restaurant business is getting harder and harder.
“If you look at the money earned and the percentages, you see that each new restaurant dilutes the customer base for those who are already open.”
Addie Mae's is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day. For more information, phone 360-385-1236.
The Cellar Door is open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays and later on the weekends. See www.facebook.com/CellarDoorPT or phone 360-385-6959.
Castle Key is open from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and for Sunday brunch beginning at 8 a.m. See www.manresacastle.com/ dining.html or phone 360-385-9703.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.