Over the course of 15 years, bayleaf owner Beth Kuchynka’s vision for her specialty food shop hasn’t wavered.
When she opened her store in 2000, the young entrepreneur wanted to create a connection to the community through food education and enjoyment.
And now, while celebrating 15 years in business this month, bayleaf finds itself with the same business model — just bigger and better.
And it wouldn’t have been without a perfect storm and support of key community members.
Kuchynka, then Beth Graves, was visiting friends in Coupeville in the late 1990s. While on that trip, the Seattle waitress found herself without a job, having been laid off over the phone.
At the same time, Kuchynka said her roommates were getting ready to move from the city and her life was a bit up in the air.
Her friends on Whidbey tried to convince her to move to the island.
Not completely convinced, Kuchynka then crossed paths with Oystercatcher owner Susan Vanderbeek, who asked for help waiting tables.
“And while I was waiting tables one of the customers I was waiting on asked if I would house sit for them,” Kuchynka said. “My friends were like ‘what more of a sign do you need.’”
“Within a year I had opened bayleaf.”
From the beginning of her plans, bayleaf was always going to be named bayleaf — and yes in all lowercase. But originally, the plan was to have a restaurant with a bayleaf shop in the middle.
A 400-square foot space opened below the Oystercatcher.
It was Vanderbeek who encouraged Kuchynka to open the shop, offering the open space.
The original shop offered the staples bayleaf is known for — wine and cheese. It also offered picnic plates and special ordering.
And soon bayleaf also became a staple in the community.
So much so, that in 2006 the store moved into a space double the size at the corner of Alexander and Coveland streets.
“In the original lease, I had a clause that after six months I could go down to 400 square-feet if it didn’t work out,” Kuchynka laughs now. “I was so nervous.”
That downsizing was never needed and, in fact, six years after that bayleaf expanded even further into the building.
The store has also expanded its offerings over the years adding catering services and other specialty items like gift baskets.
“We’ve always found that we weed to keep adding or augmenting our products based on what people wanted,” Kuchynka said.
The store has also worked on creating that community Kuchynka always envisioned which centered around food education and enjoyment.
“We now have four wine clubs and that has really brought people together,” she said.
Through the wine clubs and other events, bayleaf offers tasting events with themes and other educational endeavors.
They also have social opportunities through events like Thirsty Thursdays.
Kuchynka said she thinks it’s a combination of things that has contributed to the store’s success.
“In the beginning we were the only game in town and that was lucky timing,” she said. “That combined with the variety and staff bayleaf has. My staff brings a passion.”
And after 15 years in business, Coupeville will likely see Kuchykna and bayleaf for many more years.
Especially since she added commercial property owner to her business portfolio.
Kuchynka and Christopher’s owner Andreas Wurzrainer formed an LLC and purchased their commercial complex in 2014, cementing Kuchynka’s commitment to the town.
“I feel so lucky to get up everyday and come to work,” she said. “It’s not work to me.”