Fine-dining experience hidden in Big Valley

Owners converted a barn into their home/restaurant 30 years ago

Just off Big Valley Road in Poulsbo, you’ll find an old barn that was converted into a home and restaurant about 30 years ago – a venue that has slowly but surely made a name for itself.

That one-of-a-kind place in Kitsap County is Molly Ward Gardens, an eco-conscious Northwest cuisine cafe run by co-owners Sam and Lynn Ward, serving locally sourced food and ingredients from their near 5-acre garden while charming the 6,000-square-foot venue with antiques and flowers.

“It was the old Yarn Barn, and in 1990 we started our conversion into where we live and the restaurant,” Lynn said.

The Wards initially worked in real estate in Seattle before moving to Poulsbo in 1990 as Lynn had started a flower business and wanted more space to grow things. They found the perfect property for their vision on Big Valley.

“We did put some substantial gardens on the property,” Lynn said. “Sam always wanted to do a little restaurant. Little did we know how much work it was going to be to make it work.”

After settling into their new space, tragedy struck. Their black lab, Molly, was killed by a speeding driver on Big Valley. In her honor, they named the restaurant after her. “She was a wonderful dog and seemed like a perfect name for the place,” Lynn said.

By 1992, the first installment of the restaurant began. Sam started an espresso place that served little sandwiches. As the years went by, the place began to see more interest, and Lynn started to get involved.

Now, the venue has become widely known as a great setting for special events such as weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, while also offering reservations for people who want fine dining.

In the summertime, bands will often perform in the back garden. An old grand piano was donated and is used on occasion in performances. Folks can also dine under the patio lights in good weather and get a quick tour of the property.

“It’s a pretty room, the tables are far apart, and people take their time,” she said. “It’s not a rushed place. There aren’t very many in Kitsap County. In the summer we serve on the patio. People wander around. It’s not just an inside restaurant experience. Big Valley is so beautiful.”

While they do accept walk-ins, Lynn said they prefer reservations. People typically stay for a couple hours.

“We try to spread things out,” she said.

The gardens supply the restaurant with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs that are used in their dishes. While Lynn used to work in the gardens, they now hire others to do that.

“Things that you can’t find in the store we try to do that make a difference freshly picked and served,” Lynn said. “One of the thrills I get is to start something from seed to grow it, pick it, clean it and serve it. It’s a very satisfying process.”

All their meat and seafood is also sourced locally. Lynn said some of the most-popular meals over the years have been the Wagyu beef filet mignon and the crab tower with lemon aioli. The menu changes every week.

The Wards work as a team with different skill sets. Sam, 70, is the head chef and makes all the meals with the help of another cook. Lynn said Sam was a bartender in college and also worked in other hospitality areas.

On the flip side, Lynn, 77, handles the designs and visuals – inside and out. She also helps wait tables and makes desserts.

“Inside, we always try to have fairly eclectic decor,” Lynn said. “They’re always things to look at. We have different table settings. The silverware is all different and the chandeliers are all different. If it’s quality, it will work no matter what.”

Lynn said it’s been fun. “It was amazing to me that I could do it,” she said. “I never thought I was very creative, but apparently I did have some talent. We all look for things in our lives that give us satisfaction and joy. I’ve found it.”

Their son Luke, 39, has become an integral part of the business as he helps with customer service and making cocktails. “He grew up in the business,” Lynn said. “People remember him as a little kid waiting on tables.”

Aside from the Wards, the restaurant also has a handful of employees to help with cooking, serving and gardening, although Lynn added they need more so they can bring back Sunday brunch.

While working from home has become new for a lot of people the past few years, Sam and Lynn have been doing it for 30 years. Lynn said there are pros and cons to it.

“Certainly the commute is short,” Lynn said with a laugh. “The cons are you just never get away. Usually, in January, we need to take that month off to just kind of recoup.”

Lynn said while the unique venue has gained notoriety over time, it happened slowly because it’s “off the beaten track.”

“People have to find us,” she said. “We’re not like downtown Poulsbo. We’re filling a niche I think. We’ve stayed true to who we are.”

Both Sam and Lynn are unsure how long they want to keep the restaurant going.

“Who knows how much longer we can do it,” Lynn said. “We’ll go to the end of the year and then think about it. So come while we’re here.”

Molly Ward Gardens is located at 27462 Big Valley Rd NE and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 4-8 p.m.