POULSBO — Although it’s been a long time coming, Curt and Bobbi Owen still get choked up talking about closing Orca North.
The restaurant, which had been a mainstay in Little Norway since 1997, served its last meal two weeks ago. And although it was only a six-year-old venture, it was part of a 30-year restaurant tradition for the Owens that has now ended.
“That’s it for me. No more restaurants,” said Curt Owen with a tear in his eye.
Orca North was many things to many people.
For smokers, it was one of the last eateries where they were still uninhibited. For local groups it was a place where pretty much everyone could find something they liked, including breakfast, lunch and dinner all day. For many single people and senior couples, it was a great place to get good food at reasonable prices and to socialize.
In fact, the restaurateurs were so successful in creating a comfortable atmosphere that they gathered quite a following. When their first restaurant in Belfair closed, customers followed them to their new venture in Allyn, and when Allyn was closed, many continued on to the Poulsbo location.
Which is why they say they’ve had so much trouble letting go, despite mounting financial difficulties.
“The way we do our business they become extended family,” Bobbi Owen said of the business’ regulars. “We get involved with birthdays and graduations and new babies and new grand-babies, so they’re like a big extended family to us.”
“On our last day, it was just so packed with people coming in to say good-bye and it was also very trying emotionally,” added Curt Owen.
The Owens, and business partner Shiela Christensen attribute Orca North’s demise to rising taxes and utilities, which added an extra $5,000 to each month’s expenses over last year. And while larger restaurant chains had the buying power to purchase cheaper food, the Poulsbo business owners would have had to sacrifice quality for those kinds of prices.
“The standards we had for the food we bought were very high and we weren’t willing to compromise,” Bobbi Owen said.
Although the cafe’s passing has been hard on the owners, who have had to look for new employment elsewhere, the Owens said they were most worried about their customers. Orca North had a number of regular customers who were single or elderly and who ate three meals a day at the restaurant.
“We were sort of a mother and father to some of them,” Curt Owen explained.
“A lot of them are like, ‘When you close, where are we going to go?’” Bobbi Owen added.
But despite the heart-wrenching experience of losing a business they’d invested so much of themselves into, the Poulsbo residents said they’ll take mostly fond memories with them. Those memories include loyal employees who stayed until the last day even though they didn’t have to; organizations that met at the restaurant every week like clockwork, including a group from First Lutheran which especially enjoyed their Sunday hat days; and even the outpouring of thanks and sorrow from customers who saw the “we are closed forever” sign on the eatery’s door recently.
“One door closes and another one opens up,” Bobbi Owen said, summing up her attitude about losing the Orca North. “You have to take your blessings where you can find them.”