Meeting Kari and Jason Vandenbosch, who own La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib House, is like running into old friends you haven’t seen for a while. It takes about 2 seconds and you can’t help but like them. They are gracious and warm and generous … and they absolutely love what they do.
Kari first worked for Jim and Mary Lou Caudill in the mid-1990’s when they owned La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib House – working her way up to general manager over the course of about 8 years. As Kari puts it, “You learn a lot about the restaurant business when you start out at the bottom rung of the ladder and work your way up – especially when you have terrific mentors like Jim and Mary Lou! ” In 2004, with solid experience under her belt, Kari – along with Jason – purchased Flounder Bay Cafe, a successful restaurant in Anacortes and continued to hone their restaurateur skills while building a reputation for offering great food and stellar customer service.
In 2008, Kari ran into her old boss Jim Caudill at – of all things – a bridal show. She was there with a friend who was getting married and Jim was there manning a booth promoting La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib House’s catering services. Kari laughs about the chance meeting, but then stops and says, “Maybe it was chance … but I really think it was a door opening for us that I needed to pay attention to.” Within a week Jim had invited Kari to lunch and they began discussing the idea of Kari and Jason purchasing the restaurant. At the time, Kari and Jason still owned Flounder Bay Cafe in Anacortes plus a yard-care business, and were also chasing after an active 2-year old daughter. However, the idea of moving back to the restaurant Kari virtually grew up in just seemed like the perfect opportunity for their family so they jumped in with both feet and haven’t looked back.
These days you’ll find Kari and Jason taking turns and juggling the restaurant (including the 1880’s Lounge and catering business) and home responsibilities (they now have 3 daughters; Elly, Lauren and Myra). Kari laughs and says, “There’s never a dull moment in our lives – but we’re having so much fun doing what we love to do. We love the fact that our restaurant is housed in a building with so much La Conner history in its walls, (with a wink she mentions a bit of smuggling and gambling…) and we love the fact that our restaurant has been here in La Conner for 25 years.”
As much as possible, their ingredients are sourced locally – when in season, produce comes from the local farm fields and seafood comes from local fishermen. They’ve also instituted a ‘go-green’ campaign and are proud to say they now offer recyclable/compostable to-go containers, compost all food scraps, and recycle all glass, plastic, and cardboard.
Kari is also extremely proud of her staff; many of them worked for Kari and Jason at Flounder Bay and are still with them today. “Restaurant staff turn-over is often very high, which affects the entire customer service experience for guests. Having a staff that we’ve worked with for a long time (some for 10 years) makes such a difference. We know them, we trust them and we know our guests will receive the kind of service they should receive. When our customers come back time after time, it’s so fun for everyone to get reconnected.”
As a final thought, Kari sums it up this way: “When a door (opportunity) opens, there’s a reason. This restaurant needs us. It’s a very old historic building – which we love – our décor is a bit ‘eclectic’ – which we love – our dining room and deck-views of the channel are awesome – which we love – and we are part of a terrific community. This is a great place for us to be!”