ASK LAURETTE FEIT, aka Sweet Laurette, what stands out in the 10 years she’s been in business, and she won’t talk about the famous people who have eaten in her restaurant.
She won’t describe the wedding cakes she’s baked, drop the names of people she’s catered parties for or mention the rave reviews online.
She’ll tell you about Don, a retired colonel who came in every day for lunch, never leaving without a word to the cook.
“He would stop at the kitchen door and say, ‘That was the best lunch I have ever eaten,’” Laurette said.
Laurette’s culinary skills have been a staple of local life since she opened a small patisserie on Lawrence Street in April 2001.
Now celebrating her 10th anniversary, it is not her profits but the loss and gains of her customers that she remembers.
“The pivotal moments that stand out are when a dear customer dies or when a favorite customer has a baby,” she said. “It’s those two things.”
Like Seamus’ parents, who have been bringing him to the restaurant every week since he was little, and who now has a baby sister.
The Seattle couple who spend weekends in Port Townsend and come in every Saturday for lunch with their two adopted children and just adopted a third.
Then, there’s Effie and David, an older couple who come in every Sunday for brunch.
The two, who found each other later in life, asked Laurette to make their wedding cake.
“They always kiss me and call me ‘Sweet,’” Laurette said. “It’s like being with my grandparents.”
And she’ll mention Barb Ierulli, a pastry chef who started working for Laurette when the patisserie was located across the street on Lawrence Street, where 1012 Coffee House is now.
Two years later, the Food Co-op vacated its space on Lawrence, and Laurette and another employee, Cyndee Nighswonger, formed a business partnership to rent it.
With the help of building owner Malcolm Dorn, who installed the kitchen, the two women created Sweet Laurette and Cyndee’s Cafe and Patisserie.
Although the move quadrupled the 525 square feet they had before, it was still cramped.
“The day we opened it, we knew it was too small,” Laurette said.
Chance to expand
The opportunity to expand again came in 2006, when the Boiler Room, a youth coffee shop, vacated the storefront next door.
With seating for 50, Laurette began offering dinner as well as breakfast and lunch.
Although no longer partners, Nighswonger and her husband have supported the business, Laurette said.
“I think the greatest part of the work is the relationships with the staff and with my customers,” Laurette said.
Although she cut back to breakfast and lunch, Laurette is again offering dinner Friday and Saturday nights with the help of Laura Forest, a longtime employee.
Laurette also trained Adam Franz, who came in as a dishwasher at the age of 19 and became kitchen manager at 21.
Laurette’s daughters, Isabelle and Pearl, also work in the restaurant.
They were 6 and 4 years old when she started the patisserie but are now in high school.
It was frustrating to start a business when the girls were young, Laurette said, but ultimately rewarding.
Working with family
“I have raised two girls with a strong work ethic who can go out into the world and support themselves,” she said.
In addition to training staff, Laurette offers cooking classes during the winter months; she just finished up the third round of classes on pastry-making and has a few places left in an April 11 workshop, also offered twice before, on braising meat.
Giving out the recipes she uses in the restaurant and showing how people to make them step by step is her way of helping people enjoy good food at home while bringing in extra income for the restaurant during tight economic times.
“It’s been a hard business, but there is a lot of joy,” Laurette said. “People come up to me and say, ‘Those were the best scones I ever made,’ or ‘My husband loved the short ribs.’”
Laurette said she is looking forward to spring and summer, when she can be more creative with the bounty that local farms provide.
Food is her creative medium, she said, and cooking her spiritual practice, one that feeds her spiritually, creatively and socially.
“It’s about people — that’s what I’m in it for,” she said. “I’m in service to my community.”
If she could have one wish on her anniversary, it would be that the economy would pick up, as restaurants are among the first businesses to feel the pinch.
While she can’t predict what’s going to happen in the next 10 years, she does know that she feels blessed to live in a community that is supportive of her and her business.
And she considers it a privilege to serve customers’ needs, like providing take-out service for a man who likes the granola made in the restaurant.
“He is disabled, so when his car pulls up, I run out with two bags of granola,” she said. “These are the things that have meaning for me.”
Laurette has served celebrities — Ariz. Sen. John McCain liked the dinner he had at the restaurant so much, he came back the next day.
Guest stars of the Port Townsend Film Festival — Debra Winger, Malcolm McDowell — have also eaten at the restaurant.
But what she looks back on is celebrating the milestones of regular customers, like being asked to cater the party for Don’s 90th birthday.
“We all doted on him,” Laurette said. “When he died a year ago last spring, we were so sad.”
Sweet Laurette Cafe and Bistro is located at 1029 Lawrence St. in uptown Port Townsend.
The bistro is open for breakfast from 8 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. and from noon to 2:30 p.m. for lunch Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Brunch is served Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner is Friday and Saturday nights from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Espresso, drinks and pastries are available in the cafe side Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from Sundays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Closed Monday and Tuesday.
For reservations, phone 360-385-4886.
Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.