“We just had a kind of kindred spirit. It was a good fit. There was a strong sense of camaraderie and trust,” Loo said. “I knew I could bounce things off of him or take his direction and grow from it.”
Adds Allen, “I have told her time and time again that I couldn’t do this without you.”
Loo brought the culinary degree and Allen brought the front-of-the-house, customer-centric experience gained from a lifetime in food service, including in five-star restaurants and at the Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant. They say it took two of them to “make one Donna.” That’s Donna King, the Camano Island chef who sold her business to them this past March.
King had built a reputation in the community for her amazing scones and food made with care. She first owned a cafe in Stanwood before selling it and opening Cama Beach Cafe and Catering. The opportunity arrived when the state parks built the lodge above the historic rental cabins that line the beach below. The outdoor patio and windows look into a canopy of Madrona trees with peek-a-boo views of the boats in the water, and the cabins filled with families enjoying the waterfront. It’s nothing less than idyllic when the bald eagles fly overhead and the Orcas breach in the great blue beyond the trees.
King built the reputation of the cafe on her own integrity with food. She created biscuits and gravy, completed with local Silvana meats sausage, that Southerners claim is the best they’ve had. Local eggs from a mile down the way could be subbed in for that bright orange yolk of pasture-raised perfection.
The locals and summer homeowners came to expect the best when they visited for a weekend brunch or one of King’s special and occasional dinners. The beachcombers and cabin dwellers who walk the slope up from the waterfront are visitors from other countries, locals in swim trunks and flannel, and sleepy-headed, tousle-haired children in jammies and on mommas’ hips. They come for the scones, bursting with blueberries or in-season rhubarb, decadent cinnamon rolls that sell out fast, and the gluten-free brownies that would satisfy anyone. Ordered with a latte, they’re the perfect accompaniment to a chilly northwest morning.
So when Allen, who had been working with King since 2018, dropped the hint that he’d be interested in buying the cafe should she want to sell it, the seed was planted for a pandemic year shift for which King was ready.
They worked with her when restaurants had to close their dining rooms and then when the very foundation of their location, state parks, closed. Allen brought the techie side to the trio and within a week created an online ordering presence. The trio whipped up new ideas in the form of frozen meals to go. The chicken pot pie, with its flaky homemade crust is still a big seller and only available to go. They’ll also bake it for you if you wish and, if you’re a Cama Beach cabin dweller, they’ll even deliver it to your door.
Allen and Loo have no desire to change what King created. They’re building on it. Most locals don’t even know that King sold the cafe, a change that had been in the making for more than a year.
“I am just so glad that she came to us: ‘I don’t want to put it on the market and I don’t want to have some company come and cheapen everything.’ She built it up for nine years,” Allen said.
“It was my baby,” King agreed. But, she said, Allen and Loo were already running the place with the same integrity to the food she founded it on.
“I believe in cooking from scratch with seasonal, local, organic material,” Loo said. “That’s where Donna and I met. Loo’s own direction is to “elevate the elegance,” especially in the catering, her “true love”.
While King misses the people of the Stanwood-Camano area, she’s happy in her garden in Bow, preparing for a new direction in silversmithing. The Loo-Allen duo are busy adding new menu items like Eggs Benedict and smoked salmon and bagel. Keeping the standards, everything is house made, including the Béchamel sauce, the bagel and the English muffin.
As Allen discussed their journey to owning the cafe, he paused for a moment, noting Pride month.
“She’s a woman business owner. I’m an LGBT business owner. I never thought about putting that label on it. But there's something to be said for it. In the Deep South people wouldn’t come to our restaurant. We have come a long way,” he said.
Allen added, “We just came together because it was a good fit.”