EVERETT — Anne Michelle Abbott usually worked behind the scenes at Buck’s American Cafe, where she did everything but cook.
Buck’s served as a through line for Anne and her husband James Abbott’s relationship: James started working there as a chef in 1997. Bartenders, servers and cooks from Buck’s staffed the buffet at the couple’s wedding in 1999. And in 2014, they took over the business from Jeff Hegland, who wrote that “Buck’s will be in good hands.”
James was the face of the restaurant at 2901 Hewitt Ave. that is perhaps best known for its peanut butter pie. Anne took care of the marketing, payroll, IT, accounting, inventory — all the restaurant work that is less glamorous than the food but equally important.
This August would have marked their 23rd wedding anniversary. Anne died Jan. 15, just weeks after a cancerous mass was discovered in her brain. She was 46.
“It was a whole lifetime of building a life together since we were basically kids,” James told The Daily Herald. “And now half of that’s gone.”
The two knew each other since they were babies: Their mothers were best friends. One summer, when Anne was 18 and James was 20, they began spending a lot of time together. James learned more about her, like how she said certain things in a funny way: Cookies were “built” rather than baked. She pronounced spatula “spac-catchula.” James thought it was cute. It grew on him.
Anne and James built many cookies together that summer, when they were getting to know one another better.
One of their first date spots was “probably a Denny’s,” James said. She was a finicky eater and, in turn, a cheap date. Her go-tos were grilled cheese and burgers, but since she was dating a cook, she quickly expanded her palate. After a few dates, she was asking about market prices for lobster. James recalled with a laugh, “Crap, I’ve created a monster.”
They went on long walks around the lake, to rock concerts, laser shows and, one late night, the old pirate ship ride at Seattle Center.
Their relationship changed from being kids together to dating to real love. They moved in together, and in the summer of 1998, Anne told James that if he didn’t pop the question soon, she would propose to him first. A few months later, James four-wheeled over icy roads to Forest Park, where they used to swim as kids, and parked at the same spot where they first kissed. He rushed out of their warm car over to the passenger side, to the woman he wanted to marry. He knelt before her in the snow.
The couple had two daughters, Rowan and Virginia, both of whom occasionally work at Buck’s: Rowan, 17, helps run the front of the house and Virginia, 15, cleans on weekends.
Anne graduated from Cascade High School in 1993. She played flute in her high school band, and in 1993 they got the chance to perform in Moscow, Russia — a nominally full-circle moment, as Anne was born in Moscow, Idaho. Anne later got a degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Seattle. She worked as a design manager at Tulalip Data Services for the Tulalip Tribes before joining James full time at Buck’s.
If you ever browsed the menu at Buck’s or checked the restaurant’s website, that was all Anne. James doesn’t remember Buck’s even having an email address before she showed up.
“She was very dependable,” James said, looking down. “And kind.”
Anne worked tirelessly at both Buck’s and Abbott’s, an upscale restaurant they spent five months renovating before it opened in 2018. It was their “answer to people saying they had to go to Seattle or Edmonds” for fine dining, James said.
Abbott’s closed a few years later when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Anne worked non-stop applying for loans and grants, trying to keep both businesses afloat.
She was always there for others. When James’ mother, Marie, started experiencing what she thought were symptoms of appendicitis, Anne drove her to the E.R. It turned out to be lung cancer. Terminal. Anne stayed with her.
Over the years, Anne worked with local causes like Housing Hope and the Assistance League of Everett’s Holiday Home Tour. She volunteered for children’s programs at their church.
“She had a heart for others,” James said.
Anne never had a bad thing to say about other people, even those she didn’t like, James said. She accepted herself for who she was, and other people for who they were. Anne loved flying kites on the beach, road trips to Lake Tahoe, ferry trips to Whidbey Island, a good margarita. She also used to be on her high school’s crew, and while she never found time for rowing as an adult, James bought her a kayak so she could go out on the water near their home in Lake Stevens.
If James could say one thing about his wife, it was that she persevered: through running two restaurants while raising two girls, through her cancer diagnosis during the pandemic.
As James wrote in her obituary, “She was not one to complain even when struck by breast cancer, even though it was in the Covid pandemic when no one could go into the hospital with her for her treatments, when she lost her hair, the aches and pains, and the sickness.”
“Kindness defined Anne,” he wrote.
In late November, Anne started to get headaches. A blood test in early December showed no signs of breast cancer, but her headaches continued, so they scheduled an MRI. The scan revealed a mass that likely originated from the breast cancer and aggressively metastasized to her brain.
James’ advice for others: Advocate for yourself.
“Don’t try to convince yourself it’s nothing,” he said. “Not to tell people to be hypochondriacs or anything, but advocate for yourself and ask for extra tests. If you feel it, make sure to verbalize it.”
Rowan spent most of her Christmas break at the restaurant, backing her dad up while her mom was hospitalized. Around the New Year, Anne was able to come home for the last few weeks of her life.
“She took her commitments seriously,” James said. He paused, clearing his throat. “And persevered, right until the end.”
And, James added with a laugh, “She endured being married to me.”
James had been talking about Anne for more than an hour when he noticed the plaque on the bench he’d sat on at Legion Memorial Park in north Everett. It was a chilly, sunny afternoon in early February, and the fog had mostly cleared over Puget Sound.
The plaque was dedicated to a different Anne, who died in 2009. Underneath her full name was a short message. James read it out loud: “Anne’s still watching over us.”