PORT TOWNSEND – Almost nothing went according to plan for Wendy Davis and Lila’s Kitchen.
Off the beaten track in Port Townsend, Lila’s was meant to be a commercial caterer kitchen. But when Davis was preparing to open it in mid-2020, there wasn’t much need for it. The pandemic turned the restaurant landscape on its head, so “we panned as hard as possible,” said Davis.
Lila’s, named after the Davis family’s beloved Australian Shepherd Flat-Coated Retriever, didn’t open its doors, but its windows. The place is referred to in some circles as the dining hall. These outdoor vendors gatherings, more stationary than food trucks, have become popular in major cities from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
Now Davis, who in July 2020 at Lila’s Kitchen at 887 E. Park Ave. opened about an expansion after.
“It’s a phenomenon for us,” she said.
She calls it a “pandemic recipe”: restaurateurs without the capital to open their own stationary branches could settle down at Lila’s while customers pick up take-away or linger under the large red canopy and feast.
“People had a dream and so they could make it grow,” said Davis.
This has become a four season endeavor, she added, and yes, people came out in the rain and snow last winter.
Zack and Tressa Skogen-Acevedo are among the startups that are doing brisk business in their purple window. Since Zack’s Old Fashioned Donuts opened last Memorial Day weekend, the couple have hand-dipped and sold around 7,200 donuts; “About a thousand a week,” said Zack.
During the lockdown in early 2020, grocery stores stopped selling take-out donuts, he said, so Tressa wondered aloud if her husband could learn to make her old-fashioned favorites.
Zack called his grandfather, who now lives in Ocala, Florida but ran three bakeries in Long Island, NY before retiring. After much discussion, they came up with the recipe Zack uses with Lila, along with Tressa’s grandmother’s fudge-frosting formula.
There were many afternoons when their donuts sold out within an hour – leaving only the powdered holes for stragglers.
Tressa, for her part, thinks it’s all amazing.
Her job title, she said last week, could be “lucky charm”. People “jump to this window like children at Christmas time. They tell me, ‘We’re going to share this with our friends, family,’ whatever.
“It’s a really cool thing: I’ve been in retail and sales my whole life and this is the first time someone has thanked me. You come to the window and say, ‘Thank you for bringing donuts to Port Townsend.’ ”
In the next window you can see the Batch Brothers, actually not brothers, but business partners Max Reynolds and Anthony “Bo” Winterburn. Burgers and tacos fill the menu while the couple shop for produce from local farms like Red Dog and SpringRain.
The success of Lila’s Kitchen, Reynolds believes, comes from “having a bunch of talented cooks and Wendy Davis providing the space for experimentation.”
These days, the Guerrilla Kitchen and the Friendly Nettle are bringing local mushrooms, pork, and other products to their dishes. A Santa Maria-style grill is set up outside, while a pizza oven and patio heater are on the way, Davis promised. The opening times of the current tenants are listed at lilascommercialkitchen.com.
Cooks and bakers hands fly behind those windows – while the patio tables may not be full at any given time, Davis added, people call orders from each of the vendors.
The expansion could bring additional grocery sales to the property in addition to the original Lila’s. Davis is still making a decision on whether to build an additional building, and said construction would start in the spring at the earliest.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” she says.
Jefferson County’s Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz is at 360-417-3509 or. to reach [email protected] news.com.