Aftera long winter, restaurant gets warm reception

Published on Thu, Nov 22, 2007 by Jack Kintner

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After a long winter, restaurant gets warm reception

By Jack Kintner

After a winter of extensive remodeling, Jim and Carolyn Wynstra of Lynden have opened CJ’s Beach House Restaurant in the building previously used by Stephani’s restaurant. The building that dates back to the 1920s when local farmer Grover Vogt built it as the main building of the Birch Bay Golf Resort.

Originally a 90-acre mixed farm, with dairy cattle and 4,000 chickens, Vogt put up the combination restaurant, tavern and hotel himself where his chicken house once stood and built the adjacent golf course with his own farm machinery after Seattle interests indicated a desire to buy him out to do the same thing.

Similarly, after Wynstra purchased the building and adjacent golf course last summer at a sheriff’s auction through his Lynden-based Homestead North-west development company, he received at least two offers to buy the restaurant building, one of them from former operators Stephani and Eric Smith.

But like Grover Vogt before him, he ultimately spurned other offers and decided to develop it himself. It’s a part of the Grand Bay Resort complex that also includes condominiums, the Birch Bay Water Slides and the golf course. Homestead also operates Lynden’s Homestead Farms Golf Resort and Convention Center as well as properties in eastern Washington.

Project coordinator Lisa Guthrie was in charge of the remodeling and is proud to have saved one of the last surviving Birch Bay landmarks, albeit with a major face lift.

“We went back to the studs and tore out most of the inside of the building,” she said, but in doing so have given nearly all of the 140 inside seats plus another 100 on the deck a clear view of the bay. Even the cooks have a view out the front of the kitchen across the completely revamped serving station.

Much of the old building was salvaged, including the old dance floor and the fireplace made of locally gathered beach stones. The upstairs, once guest rooms, is used for storage. The dining area includes a banquet room wired for business conferences that seats over 60, and the cozy lounge has four 42-inch flat screen TVs.

“It’s great,” said wait staff Shannon Welter, a four-year Birch Bay resident and one of several former Stephani’s employees that now work at CJ’s, “compared to the four-foot shelf we had in the old restaurant, this one’s almost ten times that long.” Guthrie, head chef David Connors, front end manager Teresa Smith and pub manager Patrick Harrington all live in Birch Bay. The restaurant employs about 50 people.

Connors has been with Homestead Farms in Lynden for about a year. Prior to that he worked in specialty grocery stores in the California wine country developing ready-to-eat gourmet meals. He and the Wynstras developed the menu together to try to serve as wide a slice of the diverse Birch Bay crowd as possible. “We get everything from people in flip flops to suits and ties,” said Guthrie, “so we wanted to provide an atmosphere of relaxed elegance.”

A delicious variety

Although some menu items could use more descriptive explanations, our sampling of items did not disappoint.

The Salmon Chop-Chop salad , which boasted a generous slab of boned sockeye salmon (locally caught by reef net, we later learned) nestled on a bed of romaine and roasted vegetables blackened just enough to bring out their caramel-like sweetness and add texture,warmth and balance to the salad ($14.95).

Other menu samples included an excellent filet mignon wrapped in bacon, seared on the grill, oven baked and topped with slightly melted blue cheese was their most expensive dinner entree at $29. A shrimp quesadilla hors d’ouevre is $13 and baskets such as fish and chips, clam strips and other seafood with fries and a salad run from $11 to $16.

The front entrance is now at the north end of the building on what is now the parking lot but will eventually be a town square with the golf course to the east and a Homestead sales office on the north side. Plans to have a satellite office for the Whatcom County Sheriff on the square have apparently fallen through, but there will be year-around public rest rooms, Guthrie said.

Last week found neighbor Anne Vogt and her son Gary enjoying lunch in the restaurant. “I worked here for four years right after graduating from Blaine high school [in 1934],” she said. “We pumped gas out front for 19 cents a gallon. It was fun, and I ended up with the boss’s son [Bob Vogt], Gary’s dad, so that wasn’t too bad,” she smiled.

CJ’s Beach House Restaurant, at 7878 Birch Bay Drive, opens for lunch and dinner daily at 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on week days and 10 p.m. on weekends. Phone is 371-3400. For more information visit www.cjsbeachhouse.com
(Editor’s note: Reporter Tara Nelson contributed to this story.)