At 3 p.m. on Sunday, Barbie Mills shut the doors of her restaurant, Barbie’s Seabeck Bay Café, for the last time. After that, she and her staff planned to have margaritas at Azteca.
After 13 years, Mills and her husband, Billy, decided it was time to retire despite the tremendous success of their restaurant.
“It’s doing so well, but my husband and I are ready to retire,” she said. “Billy’s got a bucket list as long as his arm.”
The café, known for its soul-comforting food and exclusive views of Hood Canal, is what many consider a gem in Seabeck. It’s what brought droves of visitors to the tiny community on Sept. 29, the restaurant’s last day of being open. Even with sheets of rain plummeting down, customers poured into the restaurant one after the other. Waiters and waitresses bustled to and fro, each one checking on every filled table multiple times. With doors opening at 7 a.m., diners were sure to make reservations, including the McConnell family.
“It’s been our favorite place,” said Evelyn McConnell. “It’s like coming home.”
Mills’ cakes and pies were also reserved in the desserts case before most people could even drape their coats on chairs and sit down.
Veteran waitress Debbie Nelson knew they would go fast, especially on the last day. She urged customers eyeballing the case to claim their dessert prior to ordering. Before noon, only a few whole pies — peach and chocolate cream — and some slices were left for late diners. She even told some diners not to bother looking at the menu for the dessert selection because the sweets were selling so quickly.
“We had a woman who wanted us to mail cakes. We did it one time,” said Nelson. The waitress said that some of her regulars have come as far as Seattle to get their slice of Barbie’s desserts.
By 11 a.m., ham and sausage links were sold out. The salmon Benedict and dungeness crab Benedict sold out, too. Luckily, customers had multiple items to choose from, many of the recipes of which came from Mills’ own mother who loved to cook.
The owner remembers when her menu was just one page. It expanded to six pages, something that reminds her of the success of her restaurant.
“It’s been word of mouth. I really haven’t advertised very often,” she said. “That’s how I got here.”
Claire Brandewie cried just talking about it.
“It’s my home away from home,” the Seabeck resident said, fighting back tears. Brandewie, who lives just up the road, said she’s been coming to the café for as long as she can remember.
“It’s gonna be sad. You have to tell me a joke so I can laugh,” she told her five friends who came with her for one last visit with Barbie. Brandewie said she favors the hamburgers above all other menu items.
“Their hamburgers are delicious,” she said. “And their desserts are absolutely scrumptious.”
One of Brandewie’s friends, Rohani Higgins joined in on the mourning of the restaurant. Higgins, a customer for at least 10 years, said she will miss the biscuits and gravy and the monster hamburger. Higgins joked with Brandewie that she should take over the restaurant to make sure that Seabeck residents won’t go hungry.
“This is really sad,” she said. “You know, everything is so good. There’s nothing bad here.”
Mills enjoyed her last day, working the register and greeting new customers and hugging regular ones. She said it is one of the most difficult decisions she’s ever had to make, but feels it is the right time to step away and sell the building that includes her apartment, general store and restaurant. The couple is in the middle of finishing building a house, and their daughter is getting married soon, another reason they feel it is time to let go.
“We’ve cried a river,” she said. “I had no idea how much of an impact that little cafe would have on the community … it’s just amazing.”
Although the restaurant will be closed, Mills said she plans to keep her cakes, pies and sandwiches in a case at the front of the general store. That way the community can still access Mills’ famed treats. The general store will remain open until a new owner steps in.
“We’re not totally leaving until this building sells,” she said. “It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”