Whidbey Coffee’s remodeled store gets warm welcome downtown

Oak Harbor High School seniors Sara Jackson

Even on her day off, Hilary Gardner-Carpenter couldn’t stay away.

Gardner-Carpenter, manager of Whidbey Coffee’s newly remodeled Pioneer Way store in Oak Harbor, kept texting her assistant manager about how the second day of business was going Sunday then couldn’t resist the temptation to stop by and see for herself.

“I definitely have an emotional attachment to the store,” she said.

“This is my baby.”

(Below: Hilary Gardner-Carpenter, store manager, said she hopes the store helps draw more people to downtown.)

Few can appreciate the store’s transformation better than Gardner-Carpenter, who’s managed the store on Pioneer Way for nearly eight years.

What was once a drive-thru and place for company storage is now a contemporary coffee shop with indoor and outdoor seating and lots of windows allowing unobstructed views of the water and marina.

The remodel was a long time coming, owner Dan Ollis conceded, getting the store on par with Whidbey Coffee’s 11 other retail centers, including another one in Oak Harbor on Highway 20.

After beginning construction in December, the historic downtown store opened Saturday just in time for the city’s Holland Happening festival.

It wasn’t until about late Friday afternoon that the digging finally stopped and the City of Oak Harbor issued Whidbey Coffee a temporary occupancy permit.

(Below: Kylie Ehlert, assistant store manager at Whidbey Coffee on Pioneer Way, serves a customer during Saturday’s busy opening.)

The store opened the next morning, and it wasn’t long until a line of customers extended double-digit deep.

“It was so busy,” Gardner-Carpenter said. “But we got the most positive feedback about the store. It’s always nice when you have a labor of love that comes back.”

Seattle-based Brandt Design Group was the architect behind the remodel, using steel and wood in the interior to provide an industrial look and warmth.

Sara Jackson and Patrice Woodworth, seniors from Oak Harbor High School, sat in leather chairs and got cozy next to the gas fireplace Saturday.

“Oh my gosh, it’s so nice,” Woodworth said. “I don’t know which (Oak Harbor store) I like better.

“This one’s better in the summer. I’d rather go to this one in the summer.”

Things quieted down some after the festival was over, but the sunshine and near 70–degree temperatures Monday afternoon made the coffee shop’s outdoor seating inviting to Hyerim Whitehead and Heejung Rone of Oak Harbor. They sipped coffee and seemed in no rush to leave as they sat underneath an umbrella.

The store features 16 outdoor seats and 65 in all, many with views of the water, Cascades and Oak Harbor Marina.

“I enjoy the sunshine,” Whitehead said. “I’m very happy to be in a place like this. You can see the view.”

The drive-thru will continue to be a part of the remodeled store.

Store hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day except Sunday, which is open 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

(Below: The curb outside Whidbey Coffee’s store in historic downtown is a comfortable spot to enjoy a snack Saturday.)

“It is a culmination of my 26 years in the business,” Ollis said. “I’m so excited and so proud of this. It’s the last one in our entire system that needed to be updated. Of course, every one of our buildings needed a little bit here and there, but this one needed the most.

“If you look at the transformation, what a difference. It’s just so exciting to be down there on the waterfront and hopefully setting a  new tone for Pioneer Way. It’s really cool.”