The folks behind Willows Inn, including James Beard Award winner Blaine Wetzel, have brought in former Google executive chef (and emmer & rye owner) Seth Caswell to lead their new Lummi Island restaurant, Beach Store Café, which they took over the lease for last year.
Previously, the cafe was a greasy spoon-type of place. “There wasn’t a lot of love put into it," says Caswell, "so Blaine invited me out here to make it a place that is worthy; there’s absolutely no reason why this place can’t be a destination on its own.”
Caswell tells me the goal is to have a more causual sister restaurant to the Willows with a lower price level, something that’s going to appeal to the year-round crowd and make it a destination-worthy place on it’s own. "At Willows, everything is farmed, foraged and fished on the island and we’re taking that same perspective."
Team Willows puchased the cafe in the middle of their busy season, which is why they've waited until now to re-tool the concept.
Come Memorial Day weekend, Beach Store Cafe will officially transition into the new incarnation. Caswell talks of a pizza oven, “a real honest to goodness pizza oven,” burgers, nicer dishes composed of whatever is seasonably available and “things that are approachable to the local diner, but also presents something to the curious diner.” The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner and brunch on the weekend. It will also be open daily once the revamp debuts.
“You have this captive audience here, these people are traveling from all over the world to eat an 18-course tasting menu at the Willows. And then they’re here for two more days—what else are they going to eat? The previous option was a greasy spoon. These are people who obviously care about the quality of the food they eat, so why should that be the only other option?”
Caswell and Wetzel go way back. “I knew Blaine mostly through nonprofit work; our association with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, actually. It’s funny that a non-profit from Monterey, California is what brought two people from the Northwest together.”
“The enticement for me was that this is a young, growing, successful company that shares my values.”
Caswell has been on Lummi Island for less than a week and is already settling into island time. “I drive my car everywhere I go, I don’t see another car on the road, but I’m still driving my car 20 miles per hour everywhere I go. I’m in no rush to get anywhere.”