CATHLAMET — A popular Cathlamet coffee house has new owners, a new name and an expanded new menu of tasty lunch specials.
For about five years, Debbie Howie, the wife of Wahkiakum County sheriff Mark Howie, owned and operated the coffee shop at the corner of Main and Broadway as “Howie’s Corner.”
When Howie began telling her customers she was ready for a change a few months ago, sheriff’s deputy Nathan McBride decided to take over ownership of the shop.
McBride, who moved to the county to take a position with the sheriff’s office last June, said he loved the idea of running a place where locals could gather.
“It was kind of a wild hair actually. I really, really like ths community and I thought it was a good investment,” McBride explained in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
In late January, McBride re-opened the cozy gathering spot as the Tall Tree Cafe, with an expanded menu of new breakfast options and rotating lunch specials.
Because McBride works full time as a police officer, one of his first moves was to hire Puget Islander Alexandrea Arness, 36, to run the coffee house. Arness and the staff of about five baristas keep the cafe running smoothly while McBride fights crime.
“I don’t necessarily work a shift. I have a great staff, and they run circles around me. I enjoy being the owner — I’m not really gonna be a barista!” McBride said.
Arness, who has managed numerous other local restaurants and bars (including Howie’s) over the last decade, put her considerable enthusiasm into giving the café a new look and a new menu. Now, one wall features a set of painted chalkboard menus where Arness updates the lunch specials almost every day.
“We really focused on being able to do a little bit more food,” Arness said.
For around seven dollars, customers can now order a sandwich that usually comes served on a plate with chips, mango-peach salsa, and sometimes even a drink and bite of something sweet on the side.
And while a few customers have expressed a wish for more conventional, predictable offerings, Arness said the constantly changing menu is a big draw in a town where there so few dining options.
“I’ve seen more and more people coming together for meetings and casual gatherings,” Arness said.
So far, a slow-cooked, Chicago-style French Dip with onions and peppers, a Hawaiian-themed teriyaki ham and pineapple sandwich, and a BLTC (the C is for cheese) with house sauce have been some of the most popular offerings, Arness said.
“I just try to create things you’re not going get anywhere else. I never know what it’s going to be. There will never be a paper menu. It will always be on a chalk board because of the constant change,” Arness said.
The baristas also take turns inventing and naming temporary drink specials, such as the “Main Street” — a latte with English toffee and caramel syrup. Dessert specials have been added and the selection of teas and other coffee alternatives expanded. Thirsty diners who don’t care for coffee might want to consider, for example, an enormous Mason jar full of mildly sweet, lavender-flavored iced tea.
Arness, who is a musician (she plays mandolin), said the café will host regular musical events, starting next month.
A few trial live music performances drew a “tremendous” response from locals, Arness said.