Monday, October 23, 2017 / by Christine Robertson
Check out this great interview with Deborah Kohler, who tells the amazing story of how she came to own the Burton Inn, and found the restaurant Lucy’s Table.
Today, I interviewed Deborah Kohler from the Burton Inn at her beautiful space on Vashon Island. She bought the inn last year and started a restaurant called Lucy’s Table. Deborah is a graduate of culinary school, and her food is fabulous. Check out the interview!
Aaron: Tell me about how you came to buy the inn, and how Lucy’s Table came about.
I was a mortgage banker for over 30 years. I started when I was in my late teens and early 20s as a receptionist and had a beautiful, lovely, and wonderful career in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2006, some things started happening in the industry that I wasn’t supportive of, so I sold my home in the San Francisco Bay area and moved to Southern California, where I went to culinary school.
It was time to do something different, and it was an awful lot of fun. I started and operated my own chef and catering company for about eight years down there. It kind of owned the space between take-out and large-scale events.
A year ago in January, my daughter Stephanie was looking on Craigslist for a specific piece for the upstairs unit in her duplex. She put two words into the search engine on Craigslist: “kitchen island.” The first result that popped up was Armen Yousoufian for the Quartermaster Inn.
Aaron: That’s so funny! I love that.
Two weeks later, I listed my house for sale. Grandchildren will make you do strange things when you get old. There were some bumps in the road transactionally—my first escrow didn’t close. The seller went and leased it out with an option to purchase to another party. I thought it was gone forever, so when my escrow closed, I did a 1031 exchange because my property in San Clemente was income-producing. I did the exchange, bought myself a little motorhome, packed my dog up, and we hit the road. We were looking for property in the Pacific Northwest, within about 45 minutes of my grandchildren. I thought that inn was gone, and the clock was ticking to finish the exchange.
I found something that I liked up in Poulsbo, but it wasn’t lendable. I knew that the seller was a real estate investor who did private loans, and I called him up about the property in Poulsbo.
At that point in time, I knew that the relationship between the tenants (of this inn) who were doing the lease option had begun to go south. The investor told me he’d love to be my lender, and that we should talk about his inn.
Aaron: How fortuitous!
Yeah, and so, 30 days later, we closed escrow on the inn. It was just kind of meant to be.
Aaron: So the restaurant was always going to happen?
My thought process was that I wanted to be able to lease the restaurant out, but Vashon Island had other ideas; Vashon sent me talent instead of tenants. But the first thing that needed to be done was a renovation of the guest rooms. Those opened about October 13th of last year, and the guest rooms opened in December. In January, I started renovating the kitchen, which was kind of scary.
Aaron: When was the last time it was used as an inn?
The tenants evidently during the spring of last year had had a few guests in, but they weren’t licensed yet. I don’t know how long it had been since it had been a commercial inn. I think at one point, the dining room was a pilates studio.
Aaron: It was all used for other stuff, but it’s so nice to have it restored to its purpose.
You know what I did? I bought myself a job. I did! It’ll take some time, but projects like this are always long-term. It’ll keep me busy for quite some time.
Aaron: How was the first year? The first couple years in business are always frightening for people.
One of the things that is so rewarding about this place is that my actual job description is that I get to love on folks. If I’m ever having a bad day, all I need to do is take a look at my guestbook.
For the full contents of the interview, which includes beautiful shots of the inn and kitchen space, please refer to the video above. If you have any questions about prices of properties on the island or in Puget Sound in general, check out my website.