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Lips smack as new ferry food court debuts

Commuters, vendors seem pleased with cafe fare at Colman Dock.

Commuters got their first taste of the new food offerings at the Seattle ferry terminal Wednesday.

Ferry riders found new tables and chairs to relax in while sipping organic espressos, munching Thai wraps and slurping mango smoothies.

“It’s about time there was some real food here,” said Bainbridge resident Bonny Clark as she waited for the ferry with pal Jennifer Olanie. “There’s a great selection, and it’s a good use of the space here.”

Caffe Appassianato was the first to open its doors Wednesday morning, serving up brews and shots to lines of commuters thirsty for their a.m. fix.

World Wrapps, a 17-store chain offering Asian and Mexican-inspired meals wrapped in tortillas, began ringing up orders in time for the after-work rush.

Alaska’s Gourmet Subs, a purveyor of hot sandwiches, pizzas and salads, plans to open shortly.

In a terminal that until recently was characterized by little more than long wood benches, arcade games, snack food dispensers and aging bathrooms, commuters said the facility has come a long way.

“And it’s about time,” said Bremertonian Marge Krafcik, who ate lunch with her sister Pat at one of the terminal’s new lobby tables. “Having restaurants here is great, but anything is an improvement.

“It’s cleaner, more attractive and it’s especially nice when you have to wait a long time for the ferry.”

Rob Goldstein, a Port Townsend resident who often sails the Bainbridge route to visit friends in Seattle, said he was happy to see more choices at the terminal than the fast-food chain downstairs.

“I have some issues with McDonald’s,” the 17-year-old said as he waited for a wrap. “They’re far too corporate and ubiquitous, and pretty greedy. Small businesses are more welcoming and less sterile. I like going to different places and getting different food. I like food with personality.”

World Wrapps executive chef Stuart Smith said his business prides itself in being a fast-food alternative.

“We’re a real restaurant,” he said as workers drilled shelves into the brightly colored shop’s walls. “We bring in fresh produce five days a week, everything’s made to order, and we have 27 soups and dressings we make ourselves.”

Caffe Appassionato is also not a typical coffee shop. Manager Phil Sancken said he expects the cafe’s earth-friendly coffee beans will appeal particularly to island residents.

“All the coffee and espresso we serve is organic and shade-grown,” he said. “And Bainbridge is very in-tune with that.”

Appassionato has operated a small espresso stand at the terminal since last July. Their new digs include small tables decorated with red chrysanthemums and coffee bean dispensers for customers who want their caffeine by the pound.

The cafe was hit with quick and heavy bursts of customers before each ferry departure Wednesday, giving the new baristas a true trial by fire on their first day.

“This is our challenge,” Sancken said. “Everyone here is on a schedule imposed by the ferry and some are in a sprint. We’ve got to get our orders right, fast and with the right attitude.”

But Sancken hopes some customers will add a few minutes to their commute to smell the coffee.

“One of our goals is to change behavior patterns, and maybe have people stay a while,” he said.

He foresees other businesses also slowing the terminal’s hectic pace, with offerings meant to be savored rather than scarfed.

The fare

Besides coffee, Appassionato’s menu will include a variety of packaged sandwiches, Greek salads, hummus, pita bread, ice cream and smoothies. Sancken is working on a few Greek pastry recipes to add to the menu as well.

The Magnolia-based company owns about 50 cafes. Half are located in Asia, including Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.

The cafe beat out Starbucks, which operated a franchise in the terminal before the remodel, for a space at the dock, Sancken said.

Olanie said she’s glad to see a smaller company offering up shots at the terminal.

“I was getting pretty tired of Starbucks,” she said. “It’s good to see someone else here.”

Sancken said other customers have expressed satisfaction in the terminal housing a coffee shop owned by a smaller company.

“One person came up and handed me a five-dollar bill, saying, ‘thank you, I’m just so happy there’s another choice besides Starbucks,’” Sancken said.

But commuters who prefer cups emblazoned with the green and black mermaid won’t have to go far in search of their familiar brew. Two Starbucks cafes are within a three-block radius of Colman Dock.

Sancken said he’s more leery of competition from Starbucks than his fellow terminal businesses, despite some overlap in offerings. Both Appassionato and World Wrapps sell fruit smoothies, while all three new businesses offer quick lunches.

“In a sense, we’re all competing for the same share of stomach,” he said. “But enough people come through here. One day they might want a wrap, and another day they might want a sandwich, and another day a salad.”

And more food choices are on the way. The Bainbridge-based Commuter Comforts Espresso Cafe will open a coffee and wine bar next month.

The ferries have been without onboard food service for nearly a year, since concessionaire Sodexho abandoned the service, citing unprofitability.

The Inlandboatmen’s Union and Cascade Concessions, which now holds contracts for onboard food services on the Bainbridge, Bremerton and Kingston runs, are still at odds over wages and staffing levels. The two parties are slated to meet Wednesday.

Dennis Conklin, regional director for the union, said next week’s discussions are pivotal in the effort to provide food service on the state’s most popular routes.

The union reached an agreement with the Vashon Island-based Sound Foods to provide service on the Vashon to Seattle run in October. Commuters on that route dine on chowder, granola, pastries, sandwiches and Washington wines.

One WSF official was pleased with the response to the Colman Dock food court.

“The buzz has been good,” said business development manager Brian Volkert. “There’s a sense of vibrancy and excitement at the terminal that should lead to positive returns for Washington State Ferries.”

But some riders won’t be satisfied until the ferries are offering food again, too.

“About 80 percent of the time you come rushing through here with no time to stop and get something,” Olanie said. “I’d love to be able to eat something on the ferry other than chips and pop.”

Clark said the upstairs food court is still out-of-reach of many riders.

“If you’re driving on to the ferry, you’re not going to run up here for food,” she said.

The more food the better, both agreed, since more food could mean more money for the ferries.

“And then maybe they’ll quit raising the rates,” Olanie said.

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