Call it food fusion at its finest. While the foundation of their soon-to-be-available menu at the -14 Below Ice Cream Company & Café — and later, at the adjacent Y&K International Cuisine & Bar — is local ingredients, the couple wants to transport its customers across the globe.
“Our tag line, for both [eateries], is, ‘A taste of the world,’” Bill said, sitting in the café and taking a brief break as he and construction crews prepare -14 Below for its debut.
(Editor’s note: The Aug. 24 edition of the Sequim Gazette indicates the business would open in late August, but because of some proverbial roadblocks and permitting issues, the opening is likely to happen in September. MD)
The artisan ice cream shop and cafe is expected to open this month, welcoming customers to a spot next to the Sequim Bay Lodge at 268526 U.S. Highway 101.
The Lees are known locally for their Chicken & Egg business, supplying healthy and ethically-raised chicken eggs from more than 1,000 birds on land leased at the Bekkevar family farm near Blyn.
That business, Bill notes, is going extremely well, about doubling each year they are open. About 90 percent of the business’ eggs are sold commercially, he said, including five grocery stores: Sunny Farms Country Store near Sequim, Country Aire Nature Foods in Port Angeles, The Food Co-Op in Port Townsend, Kitsap Community Food Co-Op in Bremerton and a Seattle store.
But Chicken & Egg was just the appetizer, a prelude to the first and second courses for the Lees, who plan on first bringing deluxe ice cream and treats at their location between Blyn and Sequim proper, and a fine dining restaurant in the same building a month to month-and-a-half later.
Bill says his penchant for culinary creations came naturally and early in life. He worked at the Family Kitchen in Joyce for seven years, through high school, flipping the eatery’s famed Logger Burgers.
“I’ve been a foodie all my life,” Bill says. “I never lost my passion for food.”
He spent 35 years in the aerospace industry — some in the Armed Forces, some as a civilian — and much of that time was spent overseas. His career included a stint overseeing repairs and overhauls of aircraft for American and Allied planes in Mannheim, Germany, and he spent considerable time in France, Italy and other locales.
During his travels, in an era of pre- and post-Iron Curtain Europe, Bill took with him a passion for food, and he’d fund chefs and others to study international cuisine.
In his two decades abroad, Bill and Margarita figured he’d spent time — and sampled the cuisines in — 44 countries.
After returning stateside, he met Margarita and studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
But it was a domestic trip to Cincinnati, Margarita notes, that Bill was inspired for this latest yearning to delve into the freezer.
Graeter’s Ice Cream was offering tours of their ice cream-making process, Bill recalls.
“He got inspired by the way they created ice cream,” Margarita says.
That process sees ice cream ingredients spun in a machine Bill constructed, a process that essentially squeezes out the air and makes for an incredibly dense dairy product cooled at — you guessed it — 14 degrees below Fahrenheit.
The resulting ice cream is at least twice as dense as the store-bought varieties, Bill says.
As for ingredients, they’ll include fruits from local farms and milk from local creameries, chocolate from Seattle and cane sugar from Brazil. The handcrafted flavors are done in small (2-gallon) batches. Waffle cones will be made on site, and customers can add toppings, too.
“We’re not going to have anything artificial here,” Margarita says.
And as for flavors? That’s going to be a local decision too, the couple says. -14 Below’s website (14belowicecream.com) is up and running, asking prospective customers to offer their thoughts on favorite flavors. Customers can also get on the company’s mailing list for updates.
Already with thousands of hits, Bill says, that will help the cafe complete its ice cream offerings.
“We will make whatever has the most votes at the end of the month,” he says.
Initial offerings will include strawberry, chocolate and Madagascar vanilla.
Open 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except for Wednesdays, the café will feature a mostly Americana menu along with some Asian soups, Bill says, among its various breakfast and lunch items. Customers can also get their caffeine fix from -14 Below’s espresso machine.
Those seeking an ice cream fix can stop in at the café through 8 p.m.
For an estimated 60- to 90-day stretch, the Lees will offer café food and ice cream while at the same time putting the finishing touches on the Y&K International Cuisine & Bar in the same building at -14 Below — the former site of Xanadu Grill. (note: the cafe and restaurant are separately owned and operated entities from the Sequim Bay Lodge.)
“We’d been looking for a place for quite a while,” Bill said, including commercial locations in Sequim and Carlsborg.
“This place was pretty run down. What I do love about it, it’s got some awesome bones.”
It doesn’t hurt that about 17,000 vehicles drive by the location.
Walking through the building’s interior earlier this month, Bill and Margarita paint a picture of their plans for the evening diners: a full-service bar, two outdoor seating areas, beer garden patio and, of course, a festive menu featuring food from across the world.
The plan, Bill notes, is to have daily specials — one at the café and two at the restaurant — from across the globe, from authentic entrees and appetizers from Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, to a fusion of multiple cultures.
“I’m the guinea pig [for menu items],” Margarita said.
His first speciality, Bill says, will likely be ceviche, a seafood dish from Peru.
“Their palates are going to light up,” Bill says.
“What we want to do for Sequim is something different,” says Margarita. The inspiration and recipes are global but, like items procured for the café, the kitchen will be stocked with local items. For the restaurant that includes fresh seafood from the Olympic Peninsula, and in-season fruits and vegetables from local sources such as Sunny Farms.
And, as one might imagine, plenty of egg-based items from Chicken & Egg.
“This is such a beautiful area; why not celebrate it?” Margarita says.
Additional items on what Bill said would be a one-page, “four seasons” menu include Italian, stone oven-fire pizzas, tossed salads (Greek, Turkish, etc.), a build-a-burger option and, resurrected from his Joyce roots, the Logger Burger.
The restaurant’s interior and exteriors, still under construction as of early August, includes a 72-inch see-through fireplace, full bar, eight-table outdoor eating area (available for cafe customers as well), outdoor fire-pit and a 25-foot beer garden patio facing Sequim Bay.
While highway traffic is busy during the day, it settles down quite bit by 6 or 7 p.m., Bill notes, offering a pleasant ambience for outdoor diners.
The eateries may feature live music in the future too, the Lees note.
Like the café, Y&K — which got its name from the first letter of two of the Lees’ daughters, who while cooking would joke “Welcome to the Y&K cafe and bistro” — would be open six days a week except for Wednesdays, as the owners and staff get recharged.
Customer, staff care
They key to success for the café and restaurant, says Margarita, a former nurse, is great customer service.
“[Customers] want to be greeted nicely,” she says. “The last thing we want is unhappy customers. You gain more with a smile than arguing with someone.”
Quality of experience, she says, not quantity of sales, is important to the Lees.
“This is not money for us; it’s a passion,” she says.
That caring, the couple says, extends to the staff. To be ready for the opening of the cafe and restaurant, they spend a great deal of time building a staff. Bill reflected on his experience in Europe — food service was seen as more of a career option than in the U.S., with men and women training for three years — as he looked to hire cooks and wait staff. The Lees say they offer full benefits 90 days after hiring, are sending baristas for training in Seattle and will have a professional mixologist on hand for several months after opening to train bartenders.
With those offering, Bill says, staffing at -14 Below and Y&K are ready to open.
Now it’s just a matter of putting on the finishing touches, he says.
“We get people stopping by every single day,” Bill says, including a number of campers at the nearby Sequim Bay State Park, “asking, ‘When are you going to be done?’”
Says Bill, “It’s exciting. I can’t wait.
“It’s been a dream of mine for my whole life.”
-14 Below Ice Cream Company & Café
Where: 268526 U.S. Highway 101 (separately owned/operated from Sequim Bay Lodge)
Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. (7 a.m.-5 p.m. food available)
Opening: September 2022
More info: 360-504-2497
On the web: 14belowicecream.com