I can easily rattle off names of restaurants locals would say had been around “forever,” but closed in the past year – or five to ten years. People still talk about those businesses as if they were long lost friends. Yet, Whatcom County has many well-established restaurants. The Horseshoe in Bellingham, Lynden Dutch Bakery in Lynden, and Ferndale’s Cedar’s Restaurant have been serving meals for 100 years. Graham’s Restaurant in Glacier and Old Town Cafe on the Bellingham waterfront have been around for nearly six decades. Let that sink in.
But going out to eat is about more than just food. I knew there had to be servers who have developed long-standing relationships with regular customers. I searched for those with at least 15 years working in the same restaurant. You may recognize some of the following folks, but have never had the opportunity to sit down and talk with them. Let me introduce you…
Cheryl at Diamond Jim’s
We have gone to Diamond Jim’s Grill often for the past 20+ years, as we live close by. Cheryl has been our server many times and I was curious to know more about her. Owner Jim Green and Cheryl celebrate their 21st anniversary of working together on April 1, 2019. Cheryl knows the daily regulars by where they sit and what they order. “We put a good plate out,” she says. “We try to do our best.”
Rose at Fairway Cafe
Fairway Cafe owner Rose DeGroot started working at the Lynden restaurant in 1962, and owned it by 1963. Except for a five-year gap when ownership was transferred, Rose has been found circulating the dining room, welcoming back familiar faces, and ensuring that first-timers feel like they’re home. Rose says “consistency is important. We’ve been using the same potato salad recipe for 50 years.” Regular customer Sharon Dahl told me Rose makes her feel like they’ve known each other their whole lives.
Bill at Sadighi’s
One of the most iconic restaurants in Whatcom County is Bellingham’s Sadighi’s on Lakeway. Bill Sadighi retired from St. Luke’s Hospital in 1980, and opened Sadighi’s in 1984 on the spot where his former home stood. There’s seating for just 25 in the whole building, to facilitate a quiet place for mealtime conversation. “The specialty of the house is good food.” says Bill. His personally crafted recipes are indicated on the menu with an asterisk. “If people are in a rush, I tell them they are in the wrong place.” Catering to the nearby hotels, his menu boasts that Sadighi’s food is the freshest anywhere.
Debbie, Marilyn and Mike of Dutch Mothers Restaurant
Debbie and Dave Black have owned Dutch Mothers Restaurant since 1985. The eatery was stablished in 1980 by Jim and Carolyn Weinstra, who are said to have started Lynden’s Dutch theme. Marilyn has served at the restaurant for 29 years and knows the regulars by name, what days they come in, where they sit, and what they order. It’s her daily goal to make their day for them. Kitchen manager Mike came to the restaurant a year after Marylin and attributes his joy of work to his desire to serve people and work with others. The menu is comfort food, abundant and flavorful, and their most popular item is the pannekoeken.
Theresa at Hilltop Restaurant
Hilltop Restaurant has been in operation since 1959 and Theresa has been serving meals there since 2004. She notices if her regulars don’t show up, and sometimes out of concern for their welfare, she’ll seek them out at church or the senior center. “You get attached to these people,” she says. “It’s like one big family.” Theresa enjoys people and the hospitality she gets to offer to everyone who walks through the restauran’s door. People occasionally recognize her when they see her in the community, away from work. When she’s with her childhood best friend Cheryl, our featured server from Diamond Jim’s, customers of both restaurants usually do a double take.
Irv at Mykonos
Irv has been waiting tables at Mykonos since it opened 21 years ago. Born and raised in Whatcom County, he worked at Boeing until 2001. He says that 80 to 90 percent of the customers are regulars. People who come in once every year or two seem surprised that he’s still working there. “It’s a nice family environment,” he says. “Once you work here, you’re part of the family.”
Brenna and Angie at North Fork Beer Shrine
Diamond Jim’s Grill owner Jim Green purchased The North Fork Brewery two years ago. Veteran servers Brenna and Angie have been with the eatery for 15 year and 17 years, respectively. The philosophy Brenna integrates from former owner Vicky Savage is: “You’re the hostess, have good music, good food and make sure the customers are having a good time.” She likes to find a way to engage customers in conversation when they’re sitting alone at the bar. Angie says “the locals and regulars hold us up. I want their experience here to be really great. I want them to have a good time. I’m really grateful they’re here visit us.”
April at the Rusty Wagon
Kevin Seutz has owned the Rusty Wagon 2004 and he says server April “came with the business.” She worked for the previous owner for five years. April likes the regulars who come in every week after church for their favorite Sunday breakfasts: the popular Hannegan Pileup, a skillet meal, or the eggs benedict with homemade corned beef hash.
Full disclosure: I have been a customer at every one of these restaurants at some point in time over the past 25 years, and would recommend every one of them. If you go, when you recognize your server, I hope you know they are happy to see you.