Dos Okies Barbecue owner closes eatery; seeking new owner
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Larry Dennison inspects the last batch of chickens to be barbecued at his restaurant, Dos Okies, which closed this week. Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Just before Dos Okies Barbeque closed down for good this week, owner Larry Dennison reflected on his years in Port Townsend, where he has lived and worked since 1974.

“I’ve been a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker,” he said.

“I was also in politics, but I’m not sure exactly where that fits in.”

On Tuesday, Dennison, 66, closed the popular eatery that has operated at 2310 Washington St. since 2006 “because I’m just worn out.”

He decided to move on a year ago and asked an employee, Mark Murray, whether he was interested in taking over the business.

When Murray declined, Dennison turned his birthday, Sept. 30, into a target retirement date.

That came and went, so he picked the end of the year to close, whether or not someone could be found to take over the business.

He is investigating two new owner possibilities, “one who is local, and one from Seattle who wants to become local,” he said.

He hopes the business won’t stay closed for too long but said that is out of his control.

“I’ll be here to help train a new owner if they want me to, but the person who has first rights of refusal doesn’t plan to have a barbecue place,” he said.

When Dennison first moved to Port Townsend from Oklahoma, he lived above the Town Tavern before opening a shoe repair shop.

He was elected as a Jefferson County commissioner in 1984 and served two terms but was defeated in a primary contest in 1992 by County Assessor Jack Westerman, who himself was defeated in the general election.

Westerman also retired Tuesday.

“I didn’t know that. I’ll have to call and congratulate him,” Dennison said.

“It hurt at the time to be ‘unelected,’ especially in a small town where everyone knows you.”

Dennison now calls his election defeat “providence.”

Shortly after the loss, Dennison married public health nurse Julia Danskin. The couple have a 19-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Dennison also has a daughter from a previous marriage, Andrea, 25, who is now teaching English in Korea.

After the election loss, Dennison ran the Port Townsend Baking Co. for three years before opening a candle manufacturing plant, Coyote Found Candles, in the boatyard.

The butcher part came in 2001, when Dennison and partner Ron McElroy purchased a mobile barbecue pit and began appearing at events serving authentic Oklahoma fare.

After opening the permanent location in 2006 and McElroy’s retirement the following year, Dennison has continued mobile catering at events such as Concerts on the Dock and the Wooden Boat Festival.

Dennison said business in his location off the Port Townsend retail track in an industrial neighborhood has always been better in the summertime because of the proximity of two large hotels and the transient boater population.

This changed over the past two winters with the opening of the Pourhouse at 2231 Washington St., which doesn’t have a kitchen but encourages food to be brought in.

“My winter business picked up because of them because there is a good synergy between barbecue and beer,” Dennison said.

Dennison said he didn’t think he’d be remembered, something that was countered by two customers who were having a meal when he made the statement.

“Businesses turn over so rapidly here that I don’t know a lot of the people, and they don’t know me,” he said.

“Most of them don’t have any idea that I ever had a candle company or that I was a county commissioner.”

Dennison said he plans to relax for a few months before deciding what to do next and that his serial entrepreneurship resulted from a desire to stay in Port Townsend.

Why Port Townsend? “Because I’ve been elsewhere,” he said.

His secret to business success is simple.

“In order to succeed here, you need to have a fairly significant masochistic streak and enjoy the pain,” he said.

“Which I did until I turned 66 and it started to wear me down.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 02. 2014 6:37PM
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