The Fort Worden Public Development Authority is now in the food service business.
An executive chef and a manager have been hired as the FWPDA prepares to assume direct control of all food service at Fort Worden effective Wednesday, Sept. 3. One huge policy change that goes along with the switch: people who rent facilities for weddings and conferences would be allowed to bring in their own catering.
"Taking on food service, it's a real opportunity for us to provide a much more streamlined and coordinated service," said Dave Robison, FWPDA executive director. "We have a lot of details to work out, but we are looking forward to allowing outside caterers to return to Fort Worden to do business."
Meanwhile, Jaime Hayashi is tasked with some of the duties previously controlled by Michael Deighton, who began work in February as the FWPDA's first general manager. Deighton has been on unpaid administrative leave since late June, and has resigned for personal reasons, Robison confirmed Aug. 14.
“We’ve restructured our organization," Robison said. "Jaime is a nuts and bolts type of guy and is providing the glue that ties hospitality with customer service, sales, custodial and with our campus partners."
Bon Appétit's contract at Fort Worden – which the FWPDA was inheriting from Washington State Parks as part of the unique management agreement that began May 1 – was up for re-negotiation later this year. Robison was surprised when the Seattle-based company announced about two weeks ago that it was exiting as of Sept. 2.
Bon Appétit operates the Local Goods coffeehouse and cafe at the Commons, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner for groups during the summer season, operates the seasonal Cable House Canteen on the beach, and caters to weddings and groups of more than 50 people. There are three full-time employees here and up to 20 seasonal employees. The operation must be prepared to serve 500 meals a day to handle a Centrum workshop or conference.
Fort Worden is still a busy place in September and into October – a 150-person wedding on Sept. 6, for starters – and there is an immediate need for food service.
Monday, the FWPDA announced the hiring of Nicholas J. Colletti, III as executive chef and Kristan McCary as front of house manager.
Also, chef Aaran Stark and business owner Kris Nelson have been retained as consultants and "are providing help in terms of a short-term business plan and a longer-term strategy for food and beverage services and how that possibly could include a pub or a dinner club," Robison noted.
Nelson is an owner of Sirens Pub and Alchemy restaurant in Port Townsend while Stark is executive chef at Jefferson Healthcare.
"It's a great team because Aaran provides a lot of the vision and passion and Kris brings a bottom line business sense to the team," Robison said. The duo are familiar with food service at Fort Worden: together they responded to the state's request in the process in which Bon Appétit was chosen as the food service provider, and Stark worked in the fort kitchen for a while.
McCary comes over from the Ajax Cafe in Port Townsend, where since 1998 she has handled a variety of duties, including daily management, training, supervision, vendor relationships, customer relationships, accounts payable, accounts receivable, acquisition of equipment, waiting tables and more.
Colletti has been executive chef at Mountclair Park (2009-2014) in Poulsbo and at Faerland Terrace in Seattle (2011-2012), managing all aspects of dining services for residents of those senior citizen communities. He was executive chef of Heart's Desire Catering in Poulsbo (2001-2009), which was a preferred vendor for weddings and events at Port Gamble. His restaurant experience includes lead line cook at the Ajax Cafe in Port Hadlock (1997-2004).
McCary is starting this week to work with Bon Appétit during the transition, and Colletti begins Sept. 3. One of the topics this week, Robison noted, is picking a food service business name.
The plan is to relocate the FWPDA sales team from the park office building into Commons' offices being vacated by Bon Appétit, Robison said, another effort to consolidate guest services in a central location. Moving the campground check-in from the park office to the Commons has been successful, Robison noted.
Jaime Hayashi is from the island of Oahu, and worked in a variety of hotel industry jobs. He's been a night auditor, banquet manager, custodial lead, and a general manager. Relocating to the mainland, working first with Washington State Parks and now with the FWPDA, has been great, he said. He was a finalist for the job of FWPDA general manager, Robison noted.
It's no surprise that Hayashi brings that Hawaiian aloha spirit common in that state's hospitality industry.
"I want to bring aloha spirit to this property to make all our guests happy and want to return," he said. Toward that goal, he said it is vital in the guest services industry to "remember who is doing the work. In the hospitality industry you rely on the workers so much. Take care of the workers, and they will take care of you."
Hayashi understands the primary job: maximize use of the facility, maximize occupancy and meet the budget. He absolutely loves living here and working here, and his passion shows.
"We’re integrating a hotel mentality, and moving from a state park to a business is challenging and fun. The best reward is when guests say they love it and are coming back.”
Another change underway is the FWPDA renting dorm rooms for the Wooden Boat Festival, a Sept. 5-7 event that has already filled the hotel rooms not only in Port Townsend, but also in Port Ludlow.
Last September, Fort Worden was at 50 percent occupancy during the Wooden Boat Fest. This year, the park hosts a 150-person wedding which was booked two years ago. (One of the lessons the PDA has learned is this bride was not told that Wooden Boat Festival weekend is the busiest in town, and now her guests are having trouble finding rooms.)
This September, more than 100 dormitory rooms are available at Fort Worden in Building 225, the barracks nearest the water. The rooms cost $55 a night; some have a twin bed, some rooms have two beds. There are shared bathrooms, meeting spaces and covered porches.
"While they are not deluxe accommodations, it is a place to lay your head," Robison said. Reservation information is available at 360-344-4431.
The FWPDA is contracting with Utopia Tours to have a shuttle bus available during Wooden Boat Festival weekend, and talking about how that might work for other projects and events.