Frequenters of the Goose Community Grocer may have noticed a recent change in signs, as a new restaurant moved into the adjacent space previously occupied by Neil’s Clover Patch Cafe for 36 years.
First-time restaurant owners Joe and Stephanie Wierzbowski opened their Americana restaurant, the Big W, this week.
The restaurant aims to provide “fast casual counter service” and, in its first few days, has attracted a curious crowd of customers.
The full name of the new restaurant, the Big Wierzbowski, is a play on the title of the cult classic film “The Big Lebowski,” where Joe said “the food abides.”
South Whidbey locals may know the couple for their take-out pizza place and food truck of the same name.
Now they have shifted their focus to the new dine-in venture, closing the Ken’s Korner pizza place and contemplating whether to sell the food truck too.
“This opportunity came up, and we were lucky enough to get it,” Joe said.
Stephanie acknowledged that for many coming into the restaurant, the transition may have been difficult to perceive at first.
On opening day, staff constantly helped direct people to the register, which is in a different location than it was during the days of Neil’s Clover Patch Cafe.
“It’s a big change,” Stephanie said. “A lot of people are sad that Neil is gone.”
She added that Neil Colburn personally wished the couple the best, so there is no bad blood among restaurant owners past and present.
Remodeling began in January. The Goosefoot Community Fund helped renovate the restaurant’s interior, bringing it up to meet code.
“They did probably 80 percent of the work,” Joe said. “We did a lot of the painting. I built these tables, but they replaced all the gear in the kitchen.”
Some of these changes include a new range and a new fryer.
“It’s nice to start in a place and have everything fresh,” Joe said.
The couple moved to Whidbey in 2012, after working in restaurants in Rochester, N.Y. for several years.
Joe has always worked as a cook, and Stephanie has done both serving and cooking.
Stephanie said the slower change in pace definitely took some adjusting, but now they are happy to call the island home.
“It was definitely a culture shock. I realized never to go into Payless Foods if I was in a hurry,” she said with a laugh.
Joe has managed restaurants before but is excited to finally have one of his own.
Although he never had any formal education in cooking, he has been doing it since high school and learned from the many restaurants he has worked in before.
“If the restaurant that you’re working at is a good one, then you pick up a lot of skills,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to work at nice restaurants that knew what they were doing.”
The Big W’s menu is a familiar sight, with tried-and-true barbecue, smoked meats and sandwiches that have all been test-marketed in the Big W food truck.
Bread for sandwiches and hamburger buns are baked in house. Fries are hand cut, and they make all their own pickles and sauces.
Burgers are a new addition to the menu, and something Joe as the main cook has been learning to perfect after receiving a book from his brother over the holidays.
By summer, the restaurant is slated to have a beer and wine list, and would like to welcome bands to perform by the wintertime.
There will be seasonal specials, based on what the clientele desires. The first one will be a St. Patrick’s day plate of corned beef.
“We just want to be your local neighborhood stop, someplace you can come twice a week, maybe,” Joe said.