Finally, Tim DeMartini could dive into his favorite dish at Flower House Cafe in Bayview on Monday.
And he had more elbow room to do it.
After two months of renovation work doubled the cafe kitchen and dining space, loyal customers streamed in for a taste of avocado toast, seasonal green salad, chia pudding bowl and other favorites they missed.
“Looks like they can get a lot more people in here,” DeMartini commented from a corner table. “It was always pretty crowded, especially in the winter.”
“Chicken salad sandwich,” DeMartini laughed. “It’s the same thing I ordered the last time I left here, chicken salad sandwich.”
Outside on the expanded patio, red orchids and other bright flowers, succulents and potted trees dot the spaces among new tables and benches.
“The new space is lovely,” said Lucas Jushinski, about to dig into a a smoked salmon and fresh goat cheese sandwich without the bread. “I come here a lot. I really missed it.”
The expansion added 1,200 square-feet, including two small upstair offices, said Randy Landon, project manager.
A whole new room for diners extends from the main cafe, the patio tripled in size and the kitchen expanded by 300 square feet.
The renovation not only looks good, it also added new tastes.
“We actually have a grill and a range. We really have a full kitchen now,” owner Nekoda Acosta beamed as she gave a tour of the spacious room and gleaming steel fixtures.
“We can make real food, eggs to order, bacon. Once we get settled, we probably have a couple more lunch items to offer.”
Prior to the renovation, the menu was limited to coffee drinks, pastries, scones and cookies, and fresh foods that didn’t require cooking.
“We had one little hot plate and convection ovens,” Acosta said. “We had to be real creative.”
Such as boiled eggs.
Now, they can be served poached, scrambled, sunny side up and any other way.
Still, Flower House Cafe is sticking to its dishes featuring the freshest ingredients grown just down, or up, the road.
“We don’t have a fryer. We’re not a fries and burger kind of place,” Acosta said. “Everything is made in-house from scratch. There’s just such great produce on the island. We like to buy from many growers.”
The cafe is steps away from Bayview Farm & Garden, which started out as a small nursery outside a feed store barn 25 years ago.
The nursery expanded over the years as owner Maureen Murphy purchased the barn, became the community supplier of farm and pet food and created a sprawling green space of inventory worthy of park status.
But times and trends changed. Year by year, more offices, specialty stores and art studios popped up as farms and farmers faded.
The cafe is in the former feed store barn that was once full of hay for horses, Murphy explained.
When the feed and seed market started drying up, she expanded her gift shop as sales of garden decor, art and knick-knacks soared.
“The gift shop and the cafe are so much more profitable,” she said. “Even pet food sales have dropped. People are buying pet food online.”
Nekoda and her husband, Manuel Acosta, opened the cafe about four years ago. He’s known for his soups, lemon mustard vinaigrette, sauces and inventive flavors.
Small and cozy at first, it was big enough to serve simple savory fare. People stopped in for a cup of joe, latte, cappuccino and to check out the pastry case filled with baked goods made daily by Nekoda.
“She makes the best scones on the island, for sure,” said Murphy, who might be slightly biased. She’s not only owner of the nationally ranked garden store, she’s also Nekoda’s mother.
“I always thought a coffee shop would be perfect with a garden store,” she said.
It just worked out that her daughter became an experienced pastry chef while living in San Francisco, she met and married a creative cook and they grew tired of the big, bustling and expensive city life.
So they moved back to Whidbey and opened Flower House Cafe.
As it became popular, customers started asking for more kinds of food.
The Acostas slowly added more items, which attracted more customers, which eventually led to a bigger, better kitchen.
Temporarily closing the cafe on March 19 was tough, they said, on the staff and, it seems, the “regulars.”
“They were like borderline mad at us,” Nekoda said. “About 70 percent of the people who come in are the same customers we see every day, every other day.