PORT TOWNSEND — For Wendy Davis and Lila’s Kitchen, almost nothing has gone as planned.
Lila’s, off Port Townsend’s beaten restaurant track, was supposed to be a commercial kitchen for caterers. But when Davis was preparing to open it back in mid-2020, there wasn’t much need for those. The pandemic had turned the restaurant landscape inside out, so “we pivoted as hard as we could,” Davis said.
Lila’s, named after the Davis family’s beloved Australian shepherd-flat-coated retriever, opened not its doors, but its windows. The place is what’s called, in some circles, a food hall. These outdoor gatherings of vendors, more stationary than food trucks, have become popular in large cities from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
Now Davis, who opened Lila’s Kitchen at 887 E. Park Ave. in July 2020, is thinking about expanding.
“It’s been a phenomenon for us,” she said.
She calls it a “pandemic recipe:” restaurateurs without the capital to open their own brick-and-mortar locations could set up at Lila’s, while customers could pick up takeout or stay and nosh under the large red canopy.
“Folks had a dream, and this was the way they could grow it,” Davis said.
This has become a four-seasons venture, she added, and yes, people came out in the rain and snow last winter.
Zack and Tressa Skogen-Acevedo are among the startups doing brisk business at their Lila’s window. Since opening Zack’s Old Fashioned Donuts last Memorial Day weekend, the couple have hand-dipped and sold some 7,200 doughnuts; “about a thousand a week,” Zack said.
During the lockdown of early 2020, grocery stores stopped selling grab-and-go doughnuts, he said, so Tressa wondered aloud whether her husband could learn to make her favorite old-fashioneds.
Zack called his grandfather, who now lives in Ocala, Fla., but ran three bakeries in Long Island, N.Y., before retirement. After much discussion, they came up with the recipe Zack uses at Lila’s, along with the fudge frosting formula from Tressa’s grandmother.
There have been many afternoons when their doughnuts were sold out within an hour — with only the powdered holes left for latecomers.
Tressa, for her part, finds it all astonishing.
Her job title, she said last week, could be “purveyor of happiness.” People “skip up to this window like children at Christmastime. They tell me, ‘We’re going to share these with our so-and-so friends, family,’ whatever.
“It’s a really cool thing: I’ve been in retail and sales my whole life, and this is the first time anyone’s ever thanked me. They come up to the window and say, ‘Thank you so much for bringing doughnuts to Port Townsend.’”
At the next window are the Batch Brothers, not in fact brothers but business partners Max Reynolds and Anthony “Bo” Winterburn. Burgers and tacos fill the menu while the pair buys produce from local farms such as Red Dog and SpringRain.
The success of Lila’s Kitchen, Reynolds believes, boils down to “a bunch of talented chefs getting together, and Wendy Davis supplying the space” for experimentation.
These days the Guerrilla Kitchen and the Friendly Nettle are bringing local mushrooms, pork and other produce to their dishes. A Santa Maria-style grill is set up outside, while a pizza oven and patio heaters are on the way, Davis promised. Operating hours for the current tenants are listed at lilascommercialkitchen.com.
Cooks and bakers’ hands are flying behind those windows — so while the patio tables may not be full at any given time, Davis added, people are calling in carry-out orders from each of the vendors.
Expansion could bring added food vending in the lot beside the original Lila’s. Davis is still deciding whether to put in an additional building, and said construction would start no sooner than springtime.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” she said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] news.com.