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by Ashley Lodato

Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer

When Jim and Judy Evans, Bainbridge Island residents since the late 1960s, decided to develop a pub on a waterfront piece of property on the island’s north shore, they had two distinct objectives. Jim, who was born and raised in England, “envisioned an English-style pub as a community gathering spot without TVs and jukeboxes like their American counterparts–a place for lively dialogue fueled by the small but growing craft beer industry of the time,” says Harbour Public House general manager Jeff Waite. Meanwhile, Judy imagined a friendly pub that welcomed and served women, regardless of whether they were in the company of men. After all, in 1985 when Jim and Judy began planning the new pub, Washington State had only very recently abolished a law that prohibited unescorted women from being served while standing at a bar. Ultimately, the Evanses sought to nurture and maintain community through “heritage and hospitality.”

Harbour Public House‘s ethic of hospitality is a legacy of  Jim and Judy, who built Harbour Marina–a 45-slip pleasure craft moorage facility–in 1982. The boating community that emerged from marina residents living aboard vessels was a collegial one, cultivated by Jim, a college professor, and Judy, a primary school teacher. Opening parts of their own on-site home to marina residents and friends, the Evanses encouraged gatherings, reading and board games in their day room, and offered yard space for communal gardening.

The building’s heritage is a post-Civil War story. Built by war veteran Ambrose Grow and his wife Amanda in 1881, the homestead was the site of the Grow family’s fruit and vegetable gardens and free-ranging cattle. In 1991, Jim and Judy completed a five-year construction project and opened the Harbour Public House on the footprint of the home where the Grows had homesteaded a century before, and even re-purposed some of the old-growth fir found in the walls and floors of the original building.

Although local residents soon warmed to the pub, initially they were wary of a new drinking establishment in the neighborhood. Says Waite, “The hard-drinking, seafaring past with a nearby bar named the “Bloody Bucket” was not yet a distant memory.” The pub opened as a non-smoking, 21+ only tavern and has remained that way ever since. Neither Jim nor Judy had any experience in the bar or restaurant industry, but they had a knack for creating community and confidence in their two adult children, who had been part of the construction and completion of the pub and who slowly assumed its managerial duties. When Jim and Judy eventually retired, their daughter Jocelyn held the reins.

Jocelyn, who had scrapped law school plans in favor of joining the family enterprise, brought one of the pub’s regular patrons into the family fold, marrying Jeff Waite–now general manager–in 1994. It was Jocelyn who hired the pub’s first kitchen manager, who in turn added two enduring items to the food menu: Pacific Cod Fish & Chips, and the Pub Burger. They kept Jim Evans’ commitment to local craft beers as well.

Along with Jocelyn and Jeff Waite, Chef Jeff McClelland of the Culinary Institute of America embraced a local and regional ethic for the pub’s kitchen. “Long before ‘farm to table’ even had a name,” says Waite, “Chef Jeff has been working to shorten our delivery miles as much as possible. During that time, we have established relationships with local farmers and local producers that have enriched our lives and experiences along the way. The kitchen manager’s interaction used to be a weekly dialogue with two major food delivery distributors. Today, over 40 farmers, producers and suppliers call on him. It has changed all of our jobs quite significantly.” Later, Waite says, as price points improved, pub management applied the local and regional ethic to its wine and spirits offerings.

With the bounty of the Pacific Northwest at its fingertips, Harbour Public House’s menu is a cornucopia of products sourced regionally and locally. The pub buys much of its meat “on the hoof,” says Waite, and is “particularly proud of its products from a Spanaway beef ranch and a Port Townsend goat ranch.” Much of the pub’s green produce comes from an island farmer. The Puget Sound basic and the Washington coast provide cheese, clams, oysters, grains, legumes, and dairy, while the pub’s cod and tuna is Pacific-caught and humanely treated by Bainbridge resident fishermen. Farro items on the menu come from Bluebird Grain Farms’ Organic Emmer-Farro. While diners are used to seeing such high-quality products on fine dining menus,” Waite says, “it once was very rare, and still is today for casual restaurants to take up the challenge as extensively as this.”

This commitment to quality ingredients is a bit of a double-edged sword in the restaurant business, as patrons often have difficulty understanding the relationship between food quality and prices. The market demands inexpensive food, yet increasingly customers want to eat and drink products with integrity: locally grown or sourced, organic, humane. Restaurant prices, then, reflect not only the quality of the food, but also the cost of preparing it thoughtfully.

Jim and Judy phased out of the family business in 2006 and for nearly a decade, Jocelyn and Waite owned and ran the pub together. In 2015, however, Jocelyn began teaching at an island Waldorf school, while Waite remained the General Manager of both the pub and the marina operations and grounds. Despite these larger managerial roles, Waite still prioritizes giving line-item attention to the menu, in collaboration with Chef Jeff. Most recently, the Jeffs have turned their focus to wheat. Both were disappointed with most American varieties of wheat, blaming it for increasing levels of inflammation in their joints; in fact, both had been avoiding American wheat in their personal diets.

After becoming acquainted with Bluebird Grain Farms at one of the early Chef’s Collaborative F2C2 gatherings and incorporating emmer-farro into their menu, in 2019 Waite began experimenting with Bluebird’s Einkorn in his bread baking. He liked the results, and convinced Pane D’Amore, which provides the pub with all of its bread and buns, to develop a custom 100% Einkorn bun just for Harbour Public House, which hit diners’ plates in the summer of 2019. Later, Pane D’Amore added 5% wheat back into the bun to help with consistency. “It’s a work in progress,” Waite says.

Like the Pub Burger’s bun, some things at Harbour Public House are evolving. Others, however, remain consistent, such as the atmosphere of the pub as a welcoming spot for excellent food and beverages, a strong community, and lively conversation. To this end, Waite notes, with a nod to the pub’s roots, “No TVs or juke-boxes have ever been permanently installed and women continue to be a large percentage of its clientele.”

To learn more about the Harbour Public House, visit their website.