BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Owners of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island and the property it is on will be donating the property to Lighthouse Mission Ministries (LMM) according to an LMM announcement. As for the business, the announcement said, “it’s too early to know if a potential new owner would want to operate the restaurant and hotel rooms in a similar manner or do something different.”
LMM is currently fundraising for a planned $25-million project to remodel and redevelop its campus in Bellingham’s Old Town. The project includes constructing a 5-story building with 15,000 square feet per floor at 910 W Holly Street beginning spring of 2023. The Lighthouse Mission is the only overnight, low-barrier homeless service center north of Everett. The Lighthouse Mission is the only overnight, low-barrier homeless service center north of Everett according to the announcement.
The donated property spans 2 parcels with a combined assessed value of over $2 million. The announcement identifies the business and property owners as Tim and Marcia McEvoy.
While the announcement does not explicitly state the business is closed, the Willows Inn website says the business is on its annual hiatus during the winter months. It will be up to the property owner, LMM or who they sell the property to, to decide whether to reopen in the spring as has been done in years past.
Blaine Wetzel has been the head chef at the Willows. After working as the protégé of Rene Redzepi at Noma, in Denmark, Norway, Wetzel arrived at the Willows Inn in 2010 after replying to a Craigslist job advertisement. Originally from Olympia, this was a means to return to the Puget Sound area. He was subsequently awarded the James Beard Foundation “Rising Star” award in 2014.
A year after Wetzel’s arrival, the Willows Inn was identified by the New York Times to be one of the 10 restaurants worth a plane ride.
In 2017, US Department of Labor (DOL) investigators found Willows Inn on Lummi Island was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay overtime and minimum wage to its employees. A settlement was reached in which the company would pay $74,812 in unpaid overtime and an equal amount in damages resulting in a total of $149,624 to 19 kitchen workers.
In April of 2021, The New York Times ran a story containing allegations by former employees of “a toxic workplace.” The following month, protestors appeared outside the business appearing to call for Wetzel and the current manager resign.
The business property includes 8 on-site rooms for 16 guests.