Though change is definitely in the air, some things most cherished by our Peninsula community will stay the same — the Cottage Bakery in Long Beach, established in1908, will not be closing its doors. After weeks of worry that we might lose it, Bob and Judi Andrew passed the ownership torch to Jeff and Casey Harrell and Mark and Lindy Swain. (For new owners it’s a family affair, as Lindy is Casey’s sister.)
And to the delight of many Peninsula connoisseurs and foodies, it’s Katie Witherbee-Allsup who will be taking over the management reins of this community meeting place, beloved by locals and tourists alike.
Like a fish in water
Katie is a homegrown talent who grew up on the Peninsula and wandered into the Ark as a teenager decades ago. Nanci Main remembers that Katie started out as a busser at their made-famous-by-James-Beard establishment. Nanci was quick to introduce her to the magic happening in the Ark bakery.
“I’ve known Katie since she was 14 when she came to apply at the Ark. She had spiked red hair and I could see right away she was talented and smart and fearless. I knew immediately that she had that spark, because I was a rebel myself growing up so I recognized it. Jimella [Lucas] and I both taught her and we could see that she mirrored our values of high quality, attention to detail, and the phenomenal work ethic required to excel in the culinary field.”
For Katie it was a natural fit as well. “I knew I was interested in food from a young age. I grew up in the restaurant industry, it was just second nature to me — my mom’s parents had coffee shops in Seattle when I was growing up. So when I showed up at the Ark and asked to be a busser, it was just normal. Several of my friends had worked there already.”
But how did Katie transition from busser to baker? Katie tells it this way, “I’d shown some interest in baking so Nanci put me in the bakery as an assistant. I took to it right away — like a fish in water — and I think she recognized a natural talent too. First I was just scaling recipes [preparing for the chef by measuring out ingredients]. What ended up happening was that I was working with a baker and she had these cakes decorated, but she dropped a spatula on one by accident. Then she freaked out totally and couldn’t figure out what to do. I just jumped in and said, ‘No, we’re just going to fix this!’ After that I started doing more involved jobs in the bakery — assembling and decorating and baking more difficult recipes.”
Several years later Katie left the Peninsula to train professionally for two years at Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute in Portland. “It was intense. I was 18 and hadn’t made any solid plans at that point. But Portland was such a foodie town and there were so many culinary schools that there was lots of free labor, so it was hard to find a full-time job. I decided to come back to the Peninsula and put my experience to work.”
Local food tradition
Nanci and Jimella kept in close touch with Katie during her Portland training years, and when Jimella was diagnosed with cancer they brought Katie in to their new café in Klipsan. Near the end of Jimella’s life, Katie was being tutored on all of the “Little Italian’s” signature sauces and dishes — Bouillabaisse, Calamari Dijonnaise, Sturgeon Szechuan, Halibut du Chef.
At Jimella’s wake, Charlie Zorich — another local chef trained by the Lucas/Main duo, now with an extremely successful restaurant in Maine — heard that there was one final Jimella-dish Katie did not get a chance to learn. He’d been taught by the master himself and said, “Remember that night I did Scotch Salmon at the Ark, and you both tasted it, and said ‘That’s as close to Jimella’s as anybody’s ever going to get.’ I know all the moves, and I’ll show Katie.” And he did. Katie stepped into Jimella’s shoes at the café after her death.
You may not think much about this, but behind the scenes there is a local food heritage and inheritance that gets passed down over the years in a small town where food matters. Old timers will remember that decades ago Charlie’s family owned and operated the Big Z, a hamburger joint in Long Beach. (The building now is Chen’s.) Jimella got her start on the Peninsula at Red’s, now gone, serving fishermen into the wee hours. The Ark crumbles away at Port of Peninsula, but the cherished memories it generated over the years are still fresh. Nanci and Jimella’s Cafe and Bakery is now an Irish Pub. Katie herself has either cooked at or consulted for or managed the kitchens of so many local eateries including the Ark, Jimella and Nanci’s Café, the Bistro in Ilwaco (now a bakery), Pickled Fish, and the Shelburne, among others.
In the process of purchase negotiations, Jeff called local restaurateur and community booster Tiffany Turner to ask if she knew someone who might manage the Cottage Bakery. The choice was obvious. Tiffany called Katie and the deal was done.
Baker with a heart
Katie is both honored and humbled by the responsibility. “I know everyone is relieved that the bakery is not closing, but they may also be wondering, ‘Will my special favorite item still be in the bakery case?’ We’re planning to keep things running as they are for awhile until we all get our feet on the ground. The Cottage Bakery is old school — there are a lot of products and recipes I’m not used to. But we’re just going to test the waters at first, dip our toes in, and see how it goes.”
Katie has already added one Ark favorite — traditional bread pudding. She’s philosophical about her new role. “In so many ways, stepping into the Cottage Bakery mimics what I did with Jimella. I’m coming into this iconic business to carry the torch and in a lot of ways bring a new flare to it. I feel privileged to be sought out for this, that leaders in the community respect what I’ve done enough to trust me. Obviously it’s a different animal, but it feels good to be in this environment. It’s awesome to see grown people melt like little kids in a candy store when they come in the door.”
“I’m just super happy to be here — it’s really exciting. I have a ton to learn and it feels good to be in an environment where the staff is so gracious. There’s a solid team atmosphere — we’re one big family. That’s what drew me in.”
Our community is lucky to have such a creative and talented individual as Katie. As Nanci says, “I consider Katie family because we both have a deep love of butter! And Katie’s roots go so deep here — she knows the people who work here, she knows their families, she went to school with them, she knows the stories behind the stories. In a small community that’s gold.”
“Katie’s a home girl, she loves the community — we share that. And I recognized that in her from the beginning. As a baker you either have it or you don’t. You can learn all the technical parts, but if you don’t have the heart of a baker, you don’t have that extra touch. You can’t manufacture that. Katie has heart.”
So toques off to you, Katie. Long may you reign.