San Juan Inns Lure Foodies

Through culinary innovations at its three inns in the San Juan Islands, Columbia Hospitality is making sure that guests know they’re in the Pacific Northwest.

By: Marty Wentzel

SEATTLE Through culinary innovations at its three inns in the San Juan Islands, Columbia Hospitality is making sure that guests know they’re in the Pacific Northwest.

The Seattle-based company oversees the 26-room Inn at Langley on Whidbey Island, 26-unit Resort at Deer Harbor on Orcas Island and 20-room Friday Harbor House on San Juan Island, along with various group facilities in Washington.

According to Bret Matteson, Columbia Hospitality’s chief operating officer, the firm is focusing heavily on creating exceptional food and beverage experiences at its trio of hotels.

“All of the restaurants at our inns try to use local ingredients and specialties from each of the islands, including meats, cheeses and especially seafood,” Matteson said. “Having some of the best culinary experiences in the San Juan Islands, and even in the state, is paramount to their success.”

An example is the work of chef Kate Hegman, a relatively new face at Friday Harbor House. Hegman works with all organic ingredients. Ninety percent of her products come from the San Juans, including fresh-caught shellfish and locally raised lamb.

At Resort at Deer Harbor, the Starfish Grill has been renovated. Chef Brooks Monroe has stepped in to oversee the restaurant, where the menu emphasizes fresh island fare like mussels. Starfish Grill’s new ambience reminds diners of their Northwest setting, with such touches as a mantle and fireplace constructed from the timbers of an old barge that was washed up on shore.

Inn at Langley recently introduced Matt Costello as the new chef of its dining room, named one of America’s best 50 hotel restaurants by Food & Wine magazine in 2002. For 2004, the property is launching a series of dinners pairing foods with wines from specific Washington vineyards (Feb. 5, March 11, April 8 and May 20).

Plans call for the creation of more culinary experiences at the chain’s three inns, Matteson said. For instance, guests might be able to attend field trips and cooking classes, where they go shopping with the chef and prepare a meal.

Meanwhile, Columbia Hospitality is on the lookout for new hotels to add to its portfolio.

“When a property comes available that fits with our philosophy of hospitality, we are always willing to look into the opportunity and possibly pursue it,” said Matteson. “While we are currently focused on Washington, we can see having another property in California, Idaho or Oregon within the next few years.”

The locations of the three hotels are very complementary, said Matteson. “They are small, intimate waterfront inns that elicit the feeling of a private vacation home,” he said. “We want people to feel like they are visiting family and friends every time they walk through the doors.”

For instance, all three inns feature in-room fireplaces, and rates include continental breakfast.

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