It is a day of celebration for the owners of Neil’s Clover Patch Cafe.
Today, Neil Colburn and Candy Culver have owned the restaurant for 30 years. That’s three decades of serving food to hungry customers.
The restaurant has grown to become a prominent fixture on the island in Bayview with many patrons returning as regulars. Colburn, a former Langley mayor, tackles the kitchen while his wife, Culver, manages the front.
The cafe is the type of place when the owners often know every person in the restaurant by name.
“We’ve had wonderful loyal customers since we’ve opened,” Culver said.
Back in 1983, Colburn seized the opportunity to purchase the restaurant from the previous owners who wanted out of the business. Colburn had been working at the restaurant for about a year prior and had worked as a head chef at two other restaurants prior when he decided to take on the business.
“Inside every chef is an owner dying to get out,” he said.
Each chef wants the opportunity to call the shots and create the menus, he said.
Colburn began the restaurant just that way. He created his own menu based on fine dining, but soon found customers were not willing to pay fine-dining prices and he reverted to his roots — comfort foods. Colburn then began creating his soon-to-be staples such as a hollandaise sauce for eggs benedict, prime rib and fresh Dungeness crab.
That menu got more traction and now appeals to people looking for good food at a good value, Colburn said.
“My focus is to market to the locals,” he said.
The restaurant took a big step in supporting locals three years ago by switching their ingredients to locally-grown foods and suppliers. The decision has since put $40,000 back into the local economy, Colburn said.
Another joy for Colburn is working with his employees. Colburn said one of his favorite memories is working with hundreds of teenagers over the years.
“I’ve watched them go from a shy dishwasher to a competent cook. For me, that’s one of the neatest things,” he said.
One of the things he is most proud of is the average length his employees have stayed at the restaurant — about 13 years, with many people working at the restaurant for 15 to 20 years.
Colburn said he takes pride in providing food that’s not expected on the “little island off the coast of Everett.”
In the future, Colburn is looking forward to selling the restaurant and retiring, but that’s not to be expected anytime soon.
Colburn said one of the reasons for his success is working hard to provide good, local and healthy products at a good price.
“I was never interested in having the cheapest food — I am interested in the best value,” he said.