Downhome cooking at Big Al’s

Published on Thu, Sep 1, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Down home cooking at Big Al’s

By Jack Kintner

After several months of renovations, Al and Terry Holub opened Big Al’s Diner in July in the former Denny’s building with a staff of 20, and business has been brisk.

The couple formerly ran a similar breakfast and lunch diner in Southern California, Kay’s Restaurant in Highland, that regularly had customers lined up out the door and down the block. “We’d bring them coffee while they waited in line,” laughed Terry Holub, whose husband Al is the restaurant’s namesake.

“We didn’t serve dinners because I wanted everyone home for family meals,” she continued, and the Holub’s management style resembles the approach often taken at a family farm - their three kids all work there and they rarely take vacations. “That’s also why we’re closed on major holidays, because we want to spend them with each other but not working,” Holub said.

Daughter Katie Holub, 20, is the restaurant manager, son Kyle, 19, washes dishes and younger son Kody, 16 and a junior next year at Mt. Baker High School, is a cook “and seems to be carrying the restaurant gene,” laughed Holub.

Ashley Martin-Beard is a hostess at Big Al’s who worked at Al and Pat Slevin’s Harbor Cafe, another widely known Blaine restaurant that closed two years ago. “It’s got the same kind of comfortable feeling, a place you like to be and feel welcome,” she said.

The seeds for the move to Blaine were sown two years ago last July when Terry and Katie Holub came to visit the area. “I went home with a bad case of what I called the Washington Grumpies,” Terry said, “and then Al came up, liked what he saw and we proceeded to take a year to sell stuff and plan the move.” When their real estate agent, Lori Stewart of Prudential Kelstrup, called with the news about the Denny’s building being for sale, they were able to move quickly.

Renovations took longer than expected. After a thorough cleaning, they removed some of the internal structures that blocked their views. “When I’m working I like to see everywhere and everyone,” Holub said, “and the little cages and booth dividers in the old Denny’s blocked my view.”
They replaced the worn green carpeting with tile, covered the booths and stools and painted the walls a light yellow, applied stainless steel to much of the visible kitchen area and made the bathrooms handicapped accessible.

They felt they were successful with Kay’s Restaurant because of the tasty but very basic menu. “It’s because everything, all the preparation, is done here,” Holub said, “like all the potatoes I’ve been peeling this morning. It’s not served fancy, but while your plate may not have a garnish, it will be full of good tasting food.” Holub said.

Holub’s start in the restaurant business has a local connection, according to Smuggler’s Inn owner Bob Boulé. The person who taught Holub to cook pancakes and other breakfast dishes, a real hit at their last restaurant, was Jack Paquin, whose “Jack’s” restaurant was a Bellingham fixture for many years at the corner of Holly and E, near the old Bellingham train station. Paquin and Holub knew each other in California.

Al’s Diner is at 234 D Street in Blaine, and the phone is 332-3540. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.