If you’ve driven through Skykomish recently, you’ve likely noticed that a new business has opened up alongside U.S. Highway 2. The old Chalet Restaurant building, which has been vacant for many years, is once again breathing life.
The Big Bear Rest Stop has been open since July 1 and offers clean public restrooms, a gift shop with local handmade crafts, novelty items and more, a restaurant, beverages and an ice cream parlor.
The rustic building has been completely refurbished on the inside, and features a cohesive décor along with products that tie in with the recreational theme of the Sky Valley. The seasonal business will be open through Labor Day, closed for the winter months, and will re-open on May 1 of next year.
Business appeared to be lively as a steady stream of U.S. 2 travelers stopped in on Friday afternoon. This season, Big Bear is open from Thursday through Monday to accommodate weekend traffic.
“We get a lot of people over the weekends especially,” said General Manager Emily Gooch. “I think people are really happy there’s something in here.”
The property is owned by a Seattle area developer, and in March of this year, he hired Gooch, an Everett resident, to be his project manager. Gooch has since overseen all aspects of the building’s renovation, performed product research, helped build the restaurant’s kitchen area, planned the menu and hired the staff. Now, as the general manager, she is responsible for inventory management, assisting customers, supervising the employees and keeping the business running smoothly.
For Gooch, it was the perfect opportunity to combine her food service expertise with her knowledge of retail sales, also giving her the chance to be creative as she was able to develop her ideas for the gift shop and restaurant.
The property owner has been supportive of Gooch’s design concepts.
“We both have the same vision of what we want to turn this into,” said Gooch. “We want to turn it into something unique.”
The west side of building is currently a picnic area to accommodate folks who wish to sit outside and enjoy the mountain scenery as they have a bite to eat. Next year she hopes to expand this area, integrating a beer and wine garden. She also hopes to establish a wine tasting room for folks who live in the area and for travelers who are not planning on spending any time behind the wheel.
“My goal is to use this place as an anchor for the town of Skykomish,” said Gooch.
The town, tucked away on the south side of the fast-moving highway, can sometimes get passed by.
“A lot of people don’t even know that they’re there,” said Gooch.
She plans to work in partnership with the town to help develop commerce, and is currently offering a 10 percent discount to any customer who brings in their ticket stub from riding the new steam locomotive in the Skykomish Town Center. The train operates every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be open through October.
Big Bear’s menu includes bear-themed hamburgers, salads, gourmet hotdogs and sandwiches. Monroe resident Shannon Bartle, the head chef and kitchen manager, is a recent graduate of the Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s culinary school. Bartle, originally from Sultan, bakes daily and cooks everything herself, even hand-making many of the sauces. She plans on returning to work at Big Bear next season.
“I take pride in serving fresh and creative menu items,” said Bartle.
Vegetarian food is available, and next year Gooch and Bartle hope to incorporate more gluten-free items.
Next season, Gooch is planning on constructing a dog park area which will be located on the east side of the property. Families will be invited to let their four-legged tikes out to move around and get a drink of water. The area will also include all the necessary equipment for folks to clean up after their pets.
The Big Bear Rest Stop is located at 90000 U.S. Highway 2 in Skykomish, which is just northeast of town. It is open from Thursday through Monday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the kitchen closing at 5 p.m. Gooch, a photographer, would eventually like to add additional merchandise from local artists to the gift shop. Call (360) 677-2286 for more information.