‘Gamble’ on city pays off

Nibble’s Specialty Bakery owner Ruth Jordan Culbertson realized she’d created a monster when a woman called earlier this week, barely into August, to ask about her yule cakes.

“I’ve never had someone scheduling cakes that far in advance,” she said with a laugh.

Albeit kind of scary, the executive chef and owner of Nibbles couldn’t be more excited to be so in demand.

The first year of business for Nibbles, Bayleaf and Frasers Gourmet Hideaway restaurant has been “piles of fun,” Culbertson said, with each day bringing in its group of regulars and newbies to find the trio located at the corner of Dock Street and Fidalgo Avenue in Oak Harbor.

“It was a huge gamble for everyone in this building, but it’s really feeling like it paid off,” Culbertson said.

This Saturday, the three businesses will host a delicious open house to thank the city and the island for a booming first year of business.

“When we first opened we were never able to give thanks to everyone who helped us out,” said Scott Fraser, who along with his wife, Josee, own and operate Frasers Gourmet Hideaway. “From the city, to the construction workers, to the customers and everyone who has supported is all year.”

Fraser broke ground in July of 2005 on the almost 9,000 square foot multi-use building. Fraser’s restaurant opened its doors to customers July 21, 2006, Nibbles served its first sweet seeking customer that Sept. 1, and Bayleaf marked its opening mid-September 2006. The 2,500 third floor is two luxury condos, one of which is still vacant.

Culbertson weighs her first year of success in ingredients. Each week sees her baking through 15 dozen eggs, 50 pounds of flour, 100 pounds of sugar, 70 pounds of butter — and that’s not counting the additional nuts and other bakery treat accouterments.

Culbertson works 12-hour days in the kitchen to fill the display case in the morning and bakes some more to fill them at least two more times. All the demand has allowed the baker and her crew to get creative in the kitchen with new sweet novelties.

“We like to keep things exciting for us and our customers,” she said.

Every night, Fraser said he sees more than 100 diners flow through his restaurant.

Since its opening, the same 18 employees are working hard to produce the restaurant’s menu that changes with the seasons.

The restaurant is planning its second winemaker’s dinner for later this fall. The event features regional wine makers pairing their wines with a five course dinner by Fraser.

Already, the Bayleaf is showing signs of getting cozy in its new digs.

“We’re always bringing in new product lines with great ingredients for people to try,” said Bayleaf manager Cynthia Mason.

While Graves and Mason want to thank the community for all the support, they feel a debt of gratitude to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“They have been so helpful and supportive,” Graves said.

Graves said Oak Harbor is still warming up to the idea they can get good customer service here in town.

“We hope to host more wine events this year to welcome more people into the store so they can experience us for themselves,” Graves said.

The shop owner can wait to grow the excitement of turning people on — to food.

“We want people to come in, slow down, and get used to taking time to taste through things,” Graves said.

Fraser sees nothing but growth possibilities in the triangle block of buildings that sit at the T of Fidalgo and Dock Street.

Whidbey Beer Works moved onto Fidalgo in late June, just in time to quench the thirst of the Race Week crowd. Tae Kwon Do kids are kicking strong at the Aikido Seikikai dojo next door. Customers keep getting bronzed at Electric Beach. Brenda’s Front Porch owner Brenda Marti has branched out to bring her home design services, furniture and decor to Home Ingredients, her new business located on Fidalgo. An upholstery business has also been resurrected on Fidalgo.

“It’s been gradual, but I’m optimistic,” Fraser said. “The groundwork for growth has been placed and now it just needs to happen.”

As a member of the Harborside Merchant’s Association, Fraser is helping push projects that entice people to explore all that downtown Oak Harbor has to offer.

“It’s been a challenge to get people to come one block up from Pioneer because for a long time there was nothing up here,” Culbertson said.

A passport brochure set to publish later this year will give Oak Harbor visitors a map the downtown shops, as well as discounts and entry to a gift certificate drawing if they complete a stamped passport.

The neighborhood is eagerly waiting to see what happens with the construction of another large multi-use/residential building on Fidalgo that is in the permitting process.

With one year under his belt, Fraser is eyeing an even bigger celebration next year.

“I’m hoping to get a block party going,” he said.

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