Sierra Wilkin sanitizes pens for use by customers at Cama Beach Cafe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sierra Wilkin sanitizes pens for use by customers at Cama Beach Cafe. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Shutdown hit Camano cafe hard, but owner’s used to a challenge

When Cama Beach Cafe was forced to close, Donna King’s yoga-derived sense of calm helped her cope.

By Jana Hill / Special to the Herald

CAMANO ISLAND — Donna King’s yoga-derived sense of calm served her well when the state-home order closed down Cama Beach State Park — and Cama Beach Cafe, her restaurant on park grounds.

But calmness doesn’t pay the bills.

“I need to make a living wage, and that needs to come out of the cafe,” she said.

Her business was temporarily shuttered when the gates to Cama Beach Park closed March 24. While many other restaurants were able to offer take-out and delivery, King was forced to stay home. Her 14 employees were furloughed. She signed up for the state’s Paycheck Protection Program, and then busied herself with gardening, yoga and jewelry-making.

During her hiatus, King made a necklace: a labradorite pendant with a lightning bolt etched in. Labradorite is said to impart strength and perseverance as a companion through change. King is no stranger to perseverance; she opened Scandia Coffeehouse in Stanwood during the depths of the Great Recession, and made it work.

The coronavirus emergency posed a new challenge.

“All of our catering business was canceled, and that’s where we make a lot of our profit,” King said.

Also lost was revenue from three lucrative holidays — St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and especially Mother’s Day.

“Mother’s Day usually pulls us out of the winter doldrums,” she said. Last year, an all-day brunch buffet brought in more than 300 customers.

During the shutdown’s early days, Cama Brach Cafe was able to sell takeout. One of the cafe’s regular customers is Jeff Lemkin, who attends a nearby yoga studio with King. He placed an order online the day before shelter-in-place orders took effect in March. Within 40 minutes, several bags were at his front door, he said.

“Everything was fresh,” Lemkin said, adding that each item was at the temperature it was supposed to be: hot items hot, cold items cold.

“We enjoyed their outstanding corned beef hash, an order of grilled home fries, a classic Reuben, with their own corned beef, rye toast, a classic grilled cheese made with a tangy cheddar,” as well as the “amazing blueberry scones.”

Then the park closed, and with it, the cafe.

Cama Beach Cafe reopened for takeout May 22, about two weeks after the park itself reopened for day use.

Some changes greeted customers. A quarantine epiphany for King led to a new section on her menu for take-and-bake selections, which she said are aimed at the needs of an “isolation economy.”

Take-and-bake items include pot pies, lasagna bolognese, scones, cinnamon rolls and cookie dough. The new offerings will give isolated-diners the option to bake at home, transforming fear of germs into the scent of comfort foods. The idea has triggered a new expense, however: She needs a new freezer to store the prepared food.

Regulars will find familiarity in some of the items, but for King and her staff, “it does feel a bit like a new start,” she said.

And while King’s artistic mindset and yoga practice have kept her grounded, the coronavirus still casts a pall on the days ahead. Servers, though masked, will be in close contact with customers, which is a worry for King. She is concerned about keeping them healthy, and many of her regulars are older than 60.

“The worries are probably the hardest part,” she said. “If I can’t get catering, can I survive?”

If you go

Cama Beach Cafe, on the grounds of Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island, 1880 W. Camano Drive, is open for takeout from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Take-out items can be ordered and picked up at the cafe. Customers without a Discover Pass can park for up to 15 minutes. For more information, call 360-387-3266 or go to www.camabeachcafe.com.

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