Business

Harbor Cafe stays afloat

The winter months can be a tough time of the year for businesses in Coupeville. No one knows that better than Jan and Joe Graham, who own the Harbor Store Cafe in the red building at the Coupeville Wharf.

With the slower fall and winter season, they fell behind in rent to the building’s owner, the Port of Coupeville. As of Wednesday’s port meeting, the Harbor Store Cafe was two months behind in its rent — the second month in a row this has happened.

That prompted the port commissioners to issue a letter Wednesday saying the Grahams had three days to bring their rent current or vacate the property.

Fortunately for cafe customers, the rent was paid Thursday — even before the Grahams received the letter — and they are now current.

The Grahams opened the Harbor Store Cafe last summer. Prior to that it was a deli.

The full-service restaurant offers soups, salads and appetizers. The lunch menu features such items as Dixieland shortcake, Asian stir fry and halibut sandwiches, while the dinner selections ranges from spaghetti and Sicilian meatballs to barbecued pork spare ribs with molasses-bourbon sauce.

Co-owner Jan Graham said there are people who still don’t realize that a full-service restaurant is operating at the end of the Coupeville Wharf. But she is working to inform more people of the Harbor Store Cafe. She said the weather also is a factor for people deciding whether to walk down the pier to get a bite to eat.

“It’s not so easy to walk the dock when it’s raining,” Jan said.

In addition to word-of-mouth advertising, she took out ads in area newspapers and placed flyers at local bed and breakfasts to let people know of the Harbor Store Cafe.

The construction to replace North Main Street last summer also affected business, she said.

The restaurant is still a fairly new business and the startup costs associated with the Harbor Store Cafe were expensive, Jan said.

The cafe is continuing to offer cooking classes. Jan said cooks from local schools are coming in to share their skills.

She pointed out that other businesses around downtown Coupeville have also had a difficult year.

There have been several changes on historic Front Street in Coupeville. Brenda’s Gift Gallery and Woodwork from a Simpler Time have closed and the Stray Dog and the Penn Cove Antique Mall will close at the end of February. On the positive side, Aqua is scheduled to open in Brenda’s old location and some people are confident the empty spots will be filled by summer.

“I feel real badly about the businesses on Front Street that have closed,” Jan said. She would like to see a merchants association form to help advertise downtown Coupeville as a whole.

During the monthly Port of Coupeville meeting, the commissioners talked about how to resolve the situation with the Harbor Store Cafe.

“There’s a precedent established on the late payments,” Commissioner Bruce Bryson said during the meeting, which took place one week later in the month than normal. “This letter would have been issued had our meeting not been delayed.”

Port officials didn’t like to see the restaurant struggle.

“It breaks our heart to see them in this situation,” said Jim Patton, executive director of the Port of Coupeville.

The commissioners are considering whether the Harbor Store Cafe will be successful enough. When the cafe’s lease comes up for renewal this spring the commissioners would like to see a revised business plan.

Jan said she is working with an accountant to go over last year’s numbers and figure out a way to improve business.

She plans to renew her lease with the Port of Coupeville and is hoping for a busy summer.

The Harbor Store Cafe is currently open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 to 8:30 p.m.

After Sunday, Jan. 22, the cafe will close until Feb. 2 for scheduled maintenance and vacation.

By Valentine’s Day the cafe will resume a seven-day a week schedule. It will be open daily 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will serve dinner Thursday through Monday from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesday evenings will be devoted to cooking classes.

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