Fourteen years ago, Vonna Rushing was an accountant with two decades of experience who was fed up with an hour-long commute to crunch numbers from nine to five. When a friend asked if she wanted to start working at her restaurant, Rushing seized the opportunity without a backward glance.
Within two years, she was managing the restaurant in the small town of Cathlamet, located on the Washington side of the Columbia River. She went on to manage two other restaurants in the area, and a couple from Birch Bay, who went fishing in Cathlamet every summer, soon acquired a taste for Rushing’s culinary style. After years of persistent persuasion and cajoling, the couple finally convinced Rushing and her husband it was time to relocate and open a restaurant in Birch Bay. When a commercial space opened up in Terrell Creek Landing next to the C Shop last December, a gentle nudge from their Birch Bay friends sealed the deal.
“They asked if I was interested in the property. At the time, I was kind of reluctant,” Rushing said. “We owned our own home
down there and had everything right there on the Columbia River. Probably three weeks into it looking into it, I said, ‘all right, we’ll do it. We’re going to take the chance.’”
Vonna’s Purple Fin Restaurant opened on May 4 in the spot that formerly housed Dee’s Diner. The casual diner serves American fare all day long, seven days a week, and opens for breakfast at 6 a.m., giving early birds a chance to beat the crowd. The breakfast menu ranges from veggie omelets to chicken-fried steaks and everything in between.
Lunch features a wide variety of burgers and sandwiches, including a build-your-own option, served with a variety of sides. The restaurant serves milkshakes, root beer floats, beer and wine as well.
For dinner, customers can choose from an array of pasta, steak and seafood dishes. Rushing said she’s proud of how the seafood is prepared – lightly battered and lightly fried so the flavor of the locally sourced fish and shellfish shines through. The house-made alfredo sauce has been popular as well. “We have a wonderful recipe for it,” she said.
Rushing said that meeting and serving people from all walks of life is her passion and her calling. Even though she owns her own restaurant, she still designates certain days of the week to be out on the floor, serving customers with the rest of the wait staff.
“I can’t just sit behind a desk,” she said. “I love to serve. You meet a very diverse range of people from different places, especially at a place like this where you get people from all over the world. It’s really a neat thing to talk to people and see a different way of life.”
Rushing and kitchen manager Tricia Burdett have been working together at the diner nonstop since April 5, with no more than a few days off between them. Burdett is an experienced cook and a competent manager who brings a lot to the restaurant, Rushing said.
“She is probably the best breakfast cook I’ve worked with in 12 years. She moved up here with me, and we’ve done this together. We’re very good friends, we work well together and we see eye to eye. She functions as the head chef and keeps reign over everybody else,” Rushing said.
The other 17 employees were hired locally and Rushing said the staff has worked out great so far.
“My staff is like a family to me, so it’s important that everyone get along. It’s no fun going to work and not being happy,” she said.
Local interior decorator Kathy Jansen helped Rushing create an inviting, cozy space for diners in the small venue. High-backed booths add privacy, and a white ceiling with recessed lighting keeps it bright. Wood tones and pastel purples and blues lend a calming effect.
“I basically told her the things I needed changed in the restaurant, and she did the rest,” Rushing said. “She had a vision and her ideas came out beautifully.”
Vonna’s Purple Fin Restaurant, located at 4823 Alderson Road 108, is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
For more information, call 360/778-3826.