Zoogs' new digs

By Patrick J. Sullivan of the Leader
Posted 11/25/14

It’s not about the food, it’s about the family.

That’s a key message dished up by Food Network representatives about the “Restaurant Impossible” reality TV show’s episode filmed last …

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Zoogs' new digs

Posted

It’s not about the food, it’s about the family.

That’s a key message dished up by Food Network representatives about the “Restaurant Impossible” reality TV show’s episode filmed last week at Zoogs Caveman Cookin in Port Hadlock.

The show's premise is that with $10,000 for a physical makeover, expert advice and a ton of volunteer work, restaurants deemed to be failing can be given a fresh start.

Still, it's up to the operators – at Zoogs, an extended family – to make it all work.

Celebrity chef Robert Irvine has filmed about 125 episodes of “Restaurant Impossible" since the program debuted in January of 2011. Clearly, what he encountered at Zoogs made an immediate impression. Irvine’s Twitter feed on Nov. 19 included this post: “Day two of my mission in WA, Zoogs Caveman cookin. To date the worst I have ever, ever seen. Seriously, wait till you see this one."

The episode on Zoogs is slated to air on Feb. 3, 2015. Until then, owner Bret "Zoog" Forsberg and his wife, Michelle, are limited to what they can say in public about the experience, or the new-look restaurant. Zoog was all smiles on reveal night, mingling with customers.

Holly Pritchett, Michelle's daughter, is responsible for the Food Network show selecting Zoogs. She talked a little about the experience during the reveal on Nov. 18.

Pritchett applied a year ago (about a year after the family leased the restaurant), a two-hour process that proved to be worthwhile as it caught the attention of producer Marc Summers.

"I'm thrilled for this," Pritchett said of the opportunity. "I didn't want to give up on this place. My husband and I sunk our own money into this business. We want it to succeed."

On the ground Nov. 16-18, the experience with the often volatile Irvine felt a little like group therapy and a little like military boot camp.

None of the staff quit during the filming (as has happened at other locations) but there were tears, shouts and curse words. One observer said the family and staff were "shredded" by the TV host's personal commentary.

Teresa Verraes, Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce director, is a fan of the show. She acknowledges how difficult it can be to operate a restaurant, and how even more challenging it must be to bare your family's soul on TV.

"I did thank them for being brave enough to go through this process,” Verraes said of the family. “I don't think it's for the weakest person. It's hard enough to admit that you are failing and when it points out you are failing on many levels, that’s got to be tough. It takes serious courage. The risk factor is so big and it’s kind of thankless. Holly was so brave to reach out and make this happen."

Zoog himself was all smiles last Tuesday evening after he saw the remade interior; per show rules, he did not see the physical changes until the place reopened for business at 7 p.m. Nov. 18. After two jam-packed customer seatings last Tuesday, the business was closed on Nov. 19 and reopened Nov. 20.

Zoogs does have new hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Previously, Zoogs had been open every day for breakfast.

FAMILY HISTORY

There are more family connections to this story apart from the restaurant's current operators.

Trisa Katsikapes, 49, owns Trisa & Co. Interior Design in Port Angeles. She saw on Facebook the Food Network request for volunteers to help with a struggling restaurant in Port Hadlock. “I had no idea what Zoogs was,” but she recognized the building – it was built by her father.

Her father, the late James Cotton (later, he changed his last name back to the original family handle, Katsikapes) erected the building in 1965. James and his wife, Nancy, had opened a restaurant in a small building at the main Hadlock intersection, across from what was then Reed's Market and is now the QFC. Needing more space, they built what became the Hadlock House.

Trisa was a newborn when the new restaurant opened.

“My dad had a vision of building a larger building," Trisa Katsikapes told the Leader.

"It was so exciting on so many different levels, just the fact to participate in helping this family with their restaurant, and the fact that my parents built it and operated it" said Katsikapes, a "Restaurant Impossible" fan.

There were hired contractors from Oregon, Spokane and Poulsbo, and volunteers from around the Olympic Peninsula. Volunteers had to ditch their cell phones or be thrown off the set. Volunteers were also told not to worry should they hear Irvine yelling at someone. As a volunteer, her career as an interior designer (residential, commercial and civic buildings) came to light and she quickly found herself put in charge of a few other volunteers on a painting project.

She worked from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. with only a small break, and then 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. the next day.

"The whole overall experience working with everybody on that team, they were so positive,” Katsikapes said. “Everyone was very kind. Robert Irvine was very kind.”

A personal highlight was seeing the dining room fireplace, designed and built with Mats Mats Quarry rock by her father, was also to be a focal point of the makeover, she was even more thrilled. "My dad would be so proud."

Her career includes an award for "modest budget" design and she soaked up how the "Restaurant Impossible" designers such as Cheryl Torrenueva made choices because a $10,000 budget won't stretch as far as one might think.

“After the volunteers were done, before the big reveal where they brought Zoog in, Robert Irvine took us all to meet in the design tent out back and talked about the challenges for Zoogs, thanking people for helping the family. It was very uplifting."

Katsikapes got this take-home message from the experience: “If everybody did one kind thing for somebody, everyday, what a place this world would be."

WHAT'S NEW

Obviously, the Food Network and the business owners want curious people to become paying customers to see what's new inside Zoogs Caveman Cookin. One description of the new interior design is rustic man cave; another is an industrial feel with Pacific Northwest style. Here's a sneak peak of some major changes:

-- The new "main" entrance is what used to be the bar entrance, on the building's side. The former "front door" facing Chimacum Road leads to a seating area of booths that was untouched by the makeover. It may or may not be reopened for regular dining.

-- The center dining room has been opened to the bar area in two ways. What had been a regular doorway is now a double-wide (with no door) and what had been a half-wall with a window is no wall at all. This has greatly opened up the flow.

-- A game room portion of the bar, with electronic dart games and a small stage for karaoke, has been converted to restaurant seating. The pool table remains and was resurfaced.

-- Probably the greatest single expense was flooring, a vinyl that looks like distressed pine wood and fits with the driftwood elements made into wall art.

-- The drinking bar looks totally new, although it's not. The armrest and vinyl, padded front were removed. The wood was sanded, distressed and faux finish details added. The bar top was sanded and painted with enamel. (Gone at least for now are the beer-related neon signs and customary bar decorations, including those related to the Seattle Seahawks).

-- There are 46 chairs and 11 barstools with wood that was cleaned, “distressed” to match the overall interior design and recovered with black vinyl.

-- Kitchen equipment was fixed and an estimated 16 hours spent on cleaning.

"Restaurant Impossible" always shortens a menu to one page. Sources said the business is encouraged to keep the "launch menu" for at least two weeks before making any changes. The Zoogs menu sticks with the barbecue theme, with some new appetizers and sides. Want to know more? You'll have to check it out for yourself.

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