Last week, sometime between New Year’s Eve and January 4th, Ocean Shores couple Danica Thomas and Michael Atkins literally started living their dream as the new owners of the Ocean Grill restaurant, located at the Quinault Sweet Grass Hotel at 845 Ocean Shores Blvd.
It’s definitely a friendly takeover, since Danica has been working for the previous owners for seven years and was already serving as the restaurant’s chef and general manager.
After the Quinault Indian Nation acquired the former Ramada Inn (now the Sweet Grass) in 2015, the Bennett family, which owns Bennett’s Fish Shacks in Ocean Shores and Westport, took over the former North Shore Grill, renaming it Ocean Grill.
Danica and Michael moved to Westport from Sacramento, California, in 2011 to go to work for the Bennetts and manager Ron Lambert. The Ocean Shores Fish Shack location opened across from the Convention Center in 2012, and a few years later, the couple and daughter Melia moved across the Harbor to a home near the Oyehut Bay development. Then came their life-changing chance.
“A few months ago, Ron approached me with the opportunity” to own the Ocean Grill. A culinary school graduate, Danica said she and Michael owning their own restaurant “has been our dream for a long time.”
New Year’s Eve was her final night as an employee of the Ocean Grill. The paperwork was signed Jan. 2, and she and Michael opened the restaurant as owners on Thursday, Jan. 4. Meanwhile, the Bennett family will focus on their Fish Shacks on either side of Grays Harbor, and a new location they’ve been working on in Port Angeles, that they plan to open soon.
Taking the opportunity has meant some immediate changes for both the restaurant and the new owners’ family.
Although Michael has “cooked for fun” most of his life and had several cooking jobs, Thursday was his first day working in the Ocean Grill kitchen. It represented a huge change from his previous job, “pretty much running for the whole shift” of 11 hours at a million-square-foot Amazon distribution facility in Kent. Melia, a 2017 graduate of North Beach High School, is a freshman at South Puget Sound College in Olympia. But she will postpone her return to campus to help her parents build “what they’ve wanted their whole lives.”
And then there’s the hours. The Ocean Grill had been a dinner-only eatery. They opened Jan. 4 at 11:30 a.m. with a lunch menu, which they’ll serve seven days a week until 4 p.m., when they switch to dinner. They will be open until 9 p.m. during the off-season, and plan to extend that to 11 p.m. beginning in May. The new owners know that means a lot of long hours and seven-day work weeks.
That doesn’t diminish their enthusiasm for the opportunity and the chances for culinary creativity. Their evening menu already has a few changes, with more to come. They plan on offering more seasonal specials, a late-night menu, a Sunday through Thursday happy hour in the restaurant as well as the bar, hotel room service and catering. They’re also looking for ideas to foster some giving back to the community, perhaps a holiday meal for the needy.
With Danica’s experience as a chef and a restaurant manager, the couple understands what they’ve taken on, and they’re thrilled. She enjoys the entire process of creating, cooking, serving and then observing their customers’ satisfied faces. After cooking since she was eight years old, she still finds that practicing her well-honed culinary arts “is something fun and exciting!” Michael enthused, “This is not a job. This is our way of life now!”
More information can be found online on the Facebook page, Ocean Grill, and the Instagram page, The Ocean Grill.