by MATTHEW NASH
If the breakfasts and lunches weren’t accomplishment enough, Sequim’s Oak Table Cafe approaches another notch in its table leg.
Billy and Mary Nagler celebrate opening their restaurant 30 years ago this month on Nov. 24. The couple continues offering popular dishes like apple pancakes and 49’ers Flapjacks to plenty of regulars and new faces.
Billy Nagler said when they first opened, their clientele was mostly farmers and retirees, but as Sequim grew so did the new faces. However, through Sequim’s changes the Naglers stood their ground and resisted the competition and trends.
“To us, it is about people and taking care of them — giving them a place to come in and feel loved,” Mary said.
She said they added some menu items over the years and slightly changed ways of doing things but for the most part operations remain the same.
“The quality of food has never changed even with modern technology and easier food distribution to make things cheaper,” Mary said, “We stay with trusted and true methods.”
Billy Zuzich, general manager and Mary’s brother, said their success has a lot to do with the lack of change.
“Some try to cut corners because things are going up in cost, but an important part of what makes us special is not cutting corners,” he said.
Zuzich said through the years, the Oak Table has become a bit of an institution.
“The biggest compliment comes from someone who said they visited 15 years ago and the food is just as good as then,” Zuzich said.
Cathy Hoover, floor man-ager and an employee for nearly 30 years, said business has only gotten busier over the past three decades because they set themselves apart from other restaurants.
“You get what you pay for — it’s all homemade and in the service we provide,” Hoover said.
Customers couldn’t agree more.
Barney and Phyllis Seiler of Sequim have eaten twice a week at the cafe for the better part of the past 12 years.
“Everything is delicious and outstanding,” Barney said. ”No other place meets and beats their service or food.”
“We’ve traveled all over and it’s great,” Phyllis said.
George and Charlotte Warren of Dungeness say they come in once a week. George enjoys the poached eggs and Charlotte the blintzes with strawberries.
“People are friendly and there’s good management that all comes from the top down,” George said.
Family remains at the core
Several of the employees have worked many years for the Naglers; the couple say they’re comfortable creating a nice, safe place to work.
Mary said early communication between the front and the back staff helped keep things consistent and cohesive to this day.
Hoover said the Naglers are great to work for and treat their employees like a part of their growing family.
“They’ve always been the most caring and giving and they bend over backwards for people,” Hoover said.
Anna Wilmont, a hostess for five years, said a lot of the Naglers’ success could be attributed to their commitment to being a family run business, sticking with the basics and making people feel welcome.
Even the Nagler children are continuing the restaurant’s legacy. Their daughter Nicole and son-in-law Ross McCurdy opened the Kingston Oak Table Cafe on Mother’s Day in 2009. Kory Nagler and his wife Rachel are preparing the Maple Counter, a similar restaurant to their parents’ cafe, for a November opening in Walla Walla.
Initially, Billy Nagler intended to become a carpenter but chose to follow his father, who owned a Dog n Suds drive-in and a pancake house in Chicago, Ill.
Mary said they loved Sequim and the business they grew up working in.
The couple moved to Sequim and remodeled a small home on the corner of Bell Street and Third Avenue.
“The small house presented an opportunity for us to start small in an industry that we loved,” Mary said.
The Oak Table opened a few days before Thanksgiving with 55 seats. A remodel in the early 1990s increased capacity to 121 seats.
Nagler said on holidays before the remodel, the cafe was so popular people would wait one to two hours to eat.
The interior of the cafe reflects as much of the Naglers as the food. Mary decorated many of the walls and Billy continues to build new installations, such as shadowboxes honoring their fathers’ service in World War II.
The Naglers have no intentions of walking away into retirement and are active in helping their children with the Kingston and Walla Walla locations.
They said if The Oak Table in Sequim continues past their time, it’s likely their children will keep the legacy going.
“It’s a good industry to be in,” Billy said.