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"For cafe owners, it's in the sauce"
"There's room to improve on success. But you have to do it very carefully, says the new owner of one of Bainbridge's best-known restaurants.Richard Ramsey and his wife Barbara took over the Winslow Way Cafe Sept. 1. And while they have their own vision for the future, they want to hang onto the ingredients that have made the restaurant a success.This has been the best - and certainly the busiest - restaurant on Bainbridge, Richard Ramsey said. The challenge is to keep the same cozy, casual atmosphere, but elevate the cuisine another notch, to compete with the best restaurants in Seattle.The Ramseys bought the restaurant in Lundgren Station from Tom Lathrop and Carl Sussman over the summer, and officially took over this month.The Ramseys brought in a new chef, Ken Lyons, who has extensive experience in California with French nouvelle cuisine. They lured former islander Jim Patterson back from Boulder, Colo., to serve as wine steward. Lonnie Wigham, Barbara's sister, will be the manager.French nouvelle cuisine is based on sauces, Ramsey said. For the cafe, the recipes will have a Northwest flare, emphasizing such things as regional seafood.The new menu is lighter than traditional American fare.The portions may be smaller, but there's more variety on the plate. You don't leave feeling stuffed, Ramsey said.The new menu is being phased in gradually. The standard menu offerings are still there, although Lyons has done some improving. The new fare is being introduced in the form of the chef's specials.So far, every one of the new recipes has been a huge success, Ramsey said.Patterson's new wine list will debut in about two weeks, Ramsey said. And while Patterson has extensive experience with French and California wines, the focus will be on Washington products.There will also be changes in the decor. The dining room to the right of the entry will be carpeted and expanded. And a fireplace will be added in the bar dining area. That will provide a cozy ambience. It can get a little chilly in here in the winter, Ramsey said.The distinctive nude on the west wall will go with Lathrop; in her place will be for-purchase art from the Kurt Lidke Galleries.Perhaps the biggest change, also about two weeks away, is new hours. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. A bar menu will be offered until 5 p.m., when dinner service begins. And the cafe will continue to be open seven days a week.For the Ramseys, the cafe is their creative outlet. He had taken culinary classes, and had begun collecting wines. And while they own 14 Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants in Seattle, creative opportunities there were obviously limited.This satisfies our culinary juices, Ramsey said. We enjoy fine food and wine, and this is an avenue for us to have an input.Ramsey is a California native who spent ten years in Hawaii, eventually owning a lumberyard on Oahu. He returned to Modesto in 1992, got into the contracting business and met Barbara. They married and blended their families - his one child and her three.But California, they realized, was not the place to raise children.When my son was a seventh grader, one of his classmates got stabbed at school, Ramsey said. They checked his locker, and found a loaded .38. We decided that wasn't the place.Richard and Barbara got in their car and started driving north along the Oregon Coast. When on a whim they took the ferry to Bainbridge, they knew they had found the right spot.Buying the cafe was equally intuitive - or possibly impulsive.We were walking down the street and ran into Tom Lathrop standing in the doorway, Ramsey said. We stopped to chat, and finally asked him point-blank if the place was for sale, which we'd heard rumored. He said it was.The sale didn't happen quite so quickly. According to Ramsey, Lathrop had received other offers, but wanted to sell only to somebody who shared his vision for the place. So it was up to the Ramseys to convince them that they were the right buyers.We meshed on a personal level, Ramsey said. After he agreed to sell, he also agreed to stay on for a time to help with the transition. Carl agreed to do the same.Ramsey knows Lundgren Station, where the cafe is located, is slated for demolition and renovation in the next two or three years. But his plans are much longer-range.Landowner Earl Miller also owns the building to the east, where Schmidt's Appliances is located. He plans a two-building development, starting with the eastern building. When that building is complete, the cafe will move in there.That arrangement satisfies Ramsey.We have an option on the new space, Ramsey said. We have input on the exterior, and control over the interior. We have a 10-year lease, and hope to be here longer than that. "