Tokeland exuvtg

A sign of things to come. Photo via the Tokeland Hotel Facebook page.

I got a note recently from a South End resident asking about the fate of Young Bros. Smoked Fish Company. More than a year has passed since Wandering Goose chef Heather Earnhardt and husband Zac Young announced plans to bring smoked seafood and baked goods to Hillman City. At some point, the “coming soon” sign came off the papered window. It seemed clear this very cool project was a no go, but he wanted to know why. 

As did I. And boy, did I happen to contact Young and Earnhardt on a momentous week. 

The couple (and Young’s brother Jesse) ultimately pulled out of the project due to landlord issues. Next time around, they decided, they wanted to be the landlords. They also wanted a more mellow counterpoint to the pace of Capitol Hill restaurant life. Young and Earnhardt started looking up towards the islands, but then they visited the 1885-era Tokeland Hotel on the southwest Washington coast, considered the state's oldest resort property (and occasional haven of marijuana-inspired creativity).

"You know when you go to those rare places where you feel a warm energy because a lot of good things have happened in them over a long period of time?" says Earnhardt. She and Young got the keys this past Friday.

The takeaway: Seattle may not be getting a deli full of gravlax and layer cakes, but later this year we’ll have a marvelous new vacation spot: A revitalized hotel on Willapa Bay complete  with a 60-seat restaurant that serves Earnhardt’s food. 

Plans for the Tokeland involve big changes that happen gradually. Young, a contractor, will go room by room to upgrade dated quarters and bathrooms from the ‘80s. Earnhardt will mastermind the design—she promises period cocktails in a living room furnished with Chesterfield sofas, not to mention moroccan textiles, brass lighting, chandeliers, bold wallpaper, and local artists doing wall murals in the rooms. Bathrooms will be updated with period tile and claw-foot tubs, beds get Tuft and Needle mattresses and organic cotton linens. For guests: robes, a fire pit, soaking tubs…boy, this doesn't sound half bad.

Then there's the food. Changes at the restaurant will also be gradual; right now the Tokeland only serves weekend brunch. The ultimate plan is breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all food that's spiritual kin to the comforting fare at Wandering Goose, though not an exact replica. Young will build a big marble-topped service bar; one half will produce cocktails, the other side Earnhardt has dubbed Little Goose Bakery—a counter that will dispense Caffe Vita and fresh juices, growler fills, and retail wine. Charley, the friendly ghost who reportedly haunts the hotel (along with a ghost cat) will presumably remain.

How fortuitous that the Tokeland is situated in one of the state's underappreciated oyster regions; those plans for smoked oysters and fish that originated at Young Bros. will come to fruition 150 miles southwest of the original Hillman City plan; Young is already talking to local fishermen, and making plans for a smoking pit big enough to hold a pig.

The couple will split their time between Seattle—and Wandering Goose—and the Tokeland as they tackle this project. This is one hell of a pivot, but Earnhardt's always been just as big on hospitality as she is on fried chicken and biscuits and towering slices of cake. The Tokeland will stay open throughout the overhaul, but look for significant changes by the end of summer; the hotel's Facebook and Instagram will give updates.