New owners, familiar faces for iconic Blaine cafes

Published on Wed, May 23, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine will soon be without two of its most recognizable cafes, but only for a limited time.

Come Friday, May 25, the owners of the Blackberry House Cafe on H Street will close up shop after being in business for almost seven years. Two days later, on May 27, the proprietors at the Little Red Caboose on Peace Portal Drive will serve their last customers at the caboose, after dishing up gourmet sandwiches to hungry passersby for the past three years.

But local food fans in Blaine need not fret. The minds behind the food at the caboose, John Quimod and partner Kylie Bestul, have purchased the Blackberry House business from former owners Aaron and Kelly Tuski. They plan to reopen the cafe under a new name by July 1.

Aaron said he and his wife Kelly weren’t especially looking to sell the business when Quimod and Bestul approached them about buying. The offer, however, did make them think about life without the pressures of a small business, something they thought sounded nice.

“It just simplified life,” Tuski said.

Quimod, on the other hand, said he and Bestul had been looking for a place to move their operation for the past year. They wanted to expand their business and menu, but were simply unable to with the cramped confines of the caboose.

“We had no way to maneuver around the space limitations,” Quimod said.

Quimod said it took about five weeks from first offer to the sale closing on the Blackberry House. He and Bestul bought just the business, while Aaron Tuski’s father, Glenn, still owns the building. They will lease the building from the elder Tuski, but eventually plan to buy it.

Quimod said he has a great deal of respect for the Tuskis and for the operation they’ve built. One of the deciding factors for them buying Tuski’s business was the common customer base they share.

“I think our strong reputations made it very easy for us to come together,” Quimod said.

Quimod and Bestul plan to expand their menu and hire more staff once they move into the Blackberry House. Quimod said they’ll also apply for a beer and wine liquor license and want to eventually serve a separate evening menu with high-end appetizers.

Quimod said they will take the month of June to move into the new space and make it their own. As part of the interior changes, he plans to open the wall space of the Blackberry House up to local artists for a small commission fee.

The idea is to have one artist featured per month, with an auction of one or a few of the artist’s pieces at month’s end. Quimod had a similar set up at Shiraz World Cuisine and Fine Wines, a business he owned in Fort Worth, Texas, from 2004 to 2005.

“Blaine has a thriving artist community,” Quimod said. “It’ll be good to contribute culturally to the city, outside of food.”

Quimod and Bestul are also considering taking advantage of the building’s larger deck by adding a live music venue. He said he’s more cautious about this route, though, since customers either tend to love or hate music venues combined with food.

“Restaurants live and die by [live music],” Quimod said. “It’ll be a fine line to walk.”

Quimod’s role as chef at the Red Caboose, which will carry over to the Blackberry House, was a new one for him, but he has been in the restaurant business as a manager and owner for the past 15 years. Running the Blackberry House will be his sixth business and Bestul’s second.

Quimod said he’s glad to see a hungry entrepreneurial spirit grow in Blaine, referring in part to developer Ken Imus’s interest in the downtown area. He sees their purchase of the Blackberry House as helping to bring more youthful interest to the Peace Arch city.

“We’re trying to do our part to roll that rock up that hill,” Quimod said.

Dave and Susan Smith, of Lynden, will be taking over the caboose and keeping the establishment’s current name. Quimod said the Smiths have about 35 years in the deli business, and Susan currently manages the deli at the Market at Birch Bay.

The Tuskis, meanwhile, plan to stay in Blaine for the time being. Aaron said he’ll most likely continuing working in the food industry in some capacity, while his wife has a job with their church.

Though the long hours weighed on him after seven years, Tuski said he was glad to be able to live out his dream of owning a restaurant. He said the best part about owning a business as uniquely Blaine as the Blackberry House was meeting so many residents of the Peace Arch city.

“We got to know everyone,” Tuski said. “Having the business really got us involved the community.”