NAHCOTTA - After 25 years, Nanci Main and Jimella Lucas passed the torch of The Ark Restaurant to new owners Michael and Cameo Gilson at a gala event on Sunday night, Oct. 17.
Although the ownership may have changed, not much else will at the highly acclaimed restaurant.
"We're going to keep the same traditions," said Michael Gilson. "We're going to be the stewards."
Which is fine with the numerous well-wishers who gathered to celebrate the restaurant's past and meet the Gilsons.
The Ark is famous not only for its fresh and innovative Pacific Northwest cuisine, but also for the sense of community that Main and Lucas have fostered over the years.
Out back is "Faye's Garden," dedicated to the memory of long-time patron Faye Beaver, who continued to have Sunday brunch at her special table even after she moved into a nursing home.
People are drawn to the restaurant year after year, for birthdays, anniversaries, or simply to catch up on what is going on in the community. Charlie Diehl and his wife have been coming to The Ark for 12 years to celebrate their anniversaries.
"Thanks for the memories," he said to Main.
Even former president Bill Clinton felt compelled to visit the restaurant last year and sample their fare and their hospitality.
"It's a family," said Main; a large and extended family, based on the turnout Sunday.
The event began promptly at 6 p.m., when the doors opened. People were greeted by Main and Lucas in the front hall, introduced to Michael and Cameo, then ushered over to a wine table where Cabernet or Chablis was served. The event was completely free, a parting gift from Main and Lucas to their friends and customers.
Each person was given a "memory card," where they could write down their fondest memories of The Ark. Later, the cards were collected in a basket to be saved and savored.
"Never been disappointed with the food or service," wrote George Savage of Ocean Park. "Brought family and friends, shared many good times. Very special place! Thank you for all the good times."
"Our annual garage sale celebration with our 40 people ... the several times you cooked for us in Olympia (at Tom Owens) ... when we have governors, senators, friends, family and relatives! You are the best!" wrote Sid and Bette Snyder of Long Beach.
One of the cards already anticipated the future.
"We are happy for (Lucas and Main's) new leg of their journey and are looking forward to many more brunches at The Ark with Cameo and Michael," wrote Sandra Bates of Ocean Park.
One member of the staff circulated through the room with a tape recorder, so people could speak about their experiences if they wished. Another person snapped photos of the smiling guests.
White-jacketed attendants soon carried in platters of food to a buffet table at the back of the restaurant. There was salmon mousse on crackers, biscotti, and oysters on the half shell among other delicacies. And of course, there was the bread. Baskets full of individually wrapped loaves were placed throughout the restaurant.
The servers circulated continually through the gently lit rooms, efficiently and unobtrusively removing empty plates and glasses, and ensuring the needs of all were met.
"I must say how proud we are of our staff and their professionalism," said Main, who attributes the success of the restaurant to their hard work and dedication. All the staff will continue on with the new owners, ensuring a smooth transition. Main and Lucas also will lend a hand for a short time.
"This is a pretty wonderful night," said Main.
Main admitted the occasion was a little bittersweet. "I know every inch of the restaurant," she said.
Still, Main and Lucas will not be idle. They plan on traveling, doing volunteer work, and consulting.
"Jimella and I will continue to value our community and be involved in new and different ways," she said. They plan to remain in the area.
And, Main said, there is no way they ever plan on owning or operating another restaurant, despite the rewards.
"We just plan to eat at restaurants," she said with a smile.
The Gilsons were also looking toward the future with anticipation. They are no strangers to the restaurant business. They owned and operated a restaurant called Opera in the Los Angeles area. They moved up a month ago, but have already opened The Ark for regular business.
"We don't plan on changing anything," said Michael, although he did hints there might be some additional specials on the menu soon.
"This is a very special place," Cameo agreed as the couple was warmly welcomed in to The Ark family by all their new friends - their new community.