PORT GAMBLE — There’s something new in the air at Port Gamble: The sweet smell of barbecue.
Mike’s Four Star BBQ has found a permanent home base in the former mill town in North Kitsap. Mike and Stefanie Richman converted a building that sat vacant for two years — the historic gas station — into their own American dream. The Richman’s journey began about four years ago when Mike Richman was working for a Fortune 500 company and decided that was not the path for him.
“I got tired of being a number,” he said. “I got tired of being asked to have complete loyalty to a company that had no loyalty to me.”
With the full support of his wife, he decided to reach back into his childhood to find his passion. A native of the Fresno, Calif., area — which enjoys favorable barbecue weather year round — he’d been a master of the barbecue pit since he was 12.
“My mom would give me something and say, ‘Here, make dinner,’” he said.
While the original business plan was to sell barbecue sauce at farmers markets and the like, the couple soon realized it was nearly impossible to sell barbecue sauce without samples. The plan was altered into selling authentic pit barbecue — complete with a traveling pit. After four years of refining their recipes at a roadside stand in Port Gamble, they crossed the street and settled in.
The catering will be shelved for a bit while they get their footing in the restaurant, Mike Richman said.
They meticulously revamped the building, trying to keep it as true to the original design as possible.
While the flavorful barbecue begs for a college football tailgate party, the intricate details of the facility project a particular personality; one that Mike Richman embraces.
“I take pride in what I do,” said Mike Richman, a self-professed Type A.
The dining room itself is spacious, with a wood-burning stove that abuts the condiment table which is properly stocked with wet naps and toothpicks, true to southern pit barbecue. Another indicator of authenticity is that the tea is served warm and there are two choices: sweet tea or no tea. While Mike’s specializes in pulled pork, the menu offers up chicken, beef brisket and burgers, as well as homemade sausage (made fresh daily) and other favorites.
Even the dining room tables are unique, as the Richmans crafted the tables themselves. Mike Richman called in some assistance for this one, as his brother-in-law is a furniture maker and was providing assistance via a phone call. For the finishing touches, they gave their nephew a hammer to pound the tables, creating a weathered look, and Stefanie Richman branded each table with four stars.
Stefanie Richman said opening the restaurant fulfills a dream for both of them, and that her husband has found his niche in life.
“He’s doing what he was born to do,” she said.
Mike’s Four Star BBQ
4719 NE State Highway 104, Port Gamble
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
(360) 297-4BBQ www.mikesfourstarbbq.com