Many things in Sequim have changed over the past 30 years, but one thing remains constant — The Sunshine Café.
What began as the Sunshine Sandwich Shop in the late 1970s has been in the hands of Diane and Alan Drake since 2001 and is widely considered one of Sequim’s most treasured culinary institutions.
Diane and Alan moved to Sequim to be near Diane’s parents in the summer of 1989. Alan coached Babe Ruth baseball and they both worked a variety of jobs, with Diane waiting tables at many other restaurants, including Gwennie’s and The Red Ranch Inn, followed by seven years at Tarcisio’s.
Diane says she always wanted to run her own place someday, and when they saw the “For Sale” sign at The Sunshine Café, where she had first visited at age 8 on a trip to see Grandma, they knew it was time to take the plunge.
After a little remodeling and some old-fashioned elbow grease, it was time to open the doors.
Alan’s long-held belief is that “everything’s better on the grill” and that’s where he took up residence.
Diane made the transition from waiting tables to making soups and salad dressings and baking, introducing Sequim to the cinnamon rolls for which she has become renowned.
The learning curve was steep, but their first year was a good one.
The years that followed could tell the story of any small business trying to make it in a small town with big box stores and chain restaurants moving in and multiplying. Diane and Alan even thought of selling about six years ago. They credit John, the son they raised together, with “coming up and saving it” by helping in the kitchen and providing fresh energy.
Over the past five years, that energy has translated into a new interior look and some changes to the menu. Longtime patrons have no complaints, as the gravy has remained the same and one can still order the Gigi Scramble — named in honor of longtime server Gigi Thompson.
Hash browns are made from scratch each morning and if you order the pancakes, it’s likely you’ll get a surprise: Alan is a true pancake artist. It might be a palm tree or perhaps a note to cheer your morning but more amazing than the message is the fact that it has to be written in mirror image.
This man has skills to spare!
At its heart, though, The Sunshine Café is really about community. Early on, Diane and Alan were looking for a way to give back when they hit upon the idea of offering a free Thanksgiving Day meal.
Each year they, along with dozens of volunteers, bake turkey, mash potatoes, prepare stuffing and pies and serve their community as a way of giving thanks.
Two of the youngest volunteers to serve last year were Paige (age 14) who learned that waiting tables can be “both stressful and fun” and her sister Makenna (age 11) who discovered “how important it is to be nice to people!”
Their parents, Jeramie and Jessica O’Dell, are regular customers who come for the great food and comfortable atmosphere, but when their middle daughter Violet was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, their connection to The Sunshine Café deepened as Alan and Diane stepped forward to help raise funds for her care.
Gestures of this nature are why so many in Sequim regard The Sunshine Café as family.
If you haven’t given it a try, or it’s been awhile since you’ve been in, consider it the next time you’re pondering breakfast or lunch.
At the very least you’ll enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal, and you just may become part of the family.
Eat well and be well — at The Sunshine Café.