Erin Gainey and Philip Kramer have learned a great deal about themselves and their island community after purchasing an Eastsound landmark and reshaping it into something new.
John and Joni Trumbull owned and operated Roses Bakery Cafe in the old fire station building on Prune Alley for 30 years. This past November, they sold the building to Kramer and Gainey, who reopened it as Monti, a Roman-inspired restaurant, market and wine shop.
“We are incredibly grateful to be here, and the community has been equally as supportive,” Kramer said.
Gainey had vacationed with friends and family in the San Juans growing up, and later brought her then-boyfriend Kramer to experience the allure of Orcas. In 2016, they married at Turtlehead Farm. As soon as they had their daughter Faye, who is now 6, the family knew that Orcas would be their new home. Both Kramer, who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula and Gainey, who spent part of her youth on a ranch in Southern California, didn’t want to raise their children in Seattle.
“Living rurally teaches you about yourself and what you are made of,” Gainey said. “And we wanted our kids to run wild and free.”
Since buying their home on the island in late 2017, they’ve welcomed daughter Bliss, who is two and a half, and son Forbes, who is one. Kramer worked as a travel and nature photographer and published “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California.” Gainey is an astrologer. Neither has experience in the restaurant industry (save for Philip being a minority partner in Hogstone’s Wood Oven) so when their Orcas realtor approached them about buying the Roses building, they initially said no.
“But we couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Kramer remembers.
So the two jumped into the deep end and purchased the restaurant and bakery in November 2021. The Trumbulls did not sell the restaurant or its recipes. The sale was for the building and the equipment, which meant the new owners were starting entirely from scratch. By February, with a vision in hand but no discernible plan, Kramer and Gainey nearly scrapped their burgeoning dream.
“We were very overwhelmed,” said Gainey.
And then four friends came to the rescue as partners and collaborators. Orcas residents Michael and Elizabeth Antonia offered overall business planning and brought in Tyler and Ashley Wells, who run the restaurant All Time, in Los Angeles. Tyler flew up from California for on-site consulting and became the “guiding force” of the eatery.
From there, Monti began to take shape. Joshua Hernandez, also from LA, came to Orcas to provide counsel on Monti’s bread production. He immediately fell for the island and is now the restaurant’s head chef. Kramer and Gainey initially planned to run just the bakery and market before expanding to dinner service.
“The blueprint that was Rose’s was phenomenal: bakery, store and restaurant. We wanted to keep that but through an Italian lens,” Gainey said.
At the beginning of May, they offered coffee, baked goods and select grocery items in the smaller portion of the building. It quickly became clear that the months-long Prune Alley road project, which has eliminated parking for businesses along the entire roadway, was prohibiting customers from getting through the door.
So three weeks later, they pivoted and moved forward with opening the restaurant for dinner by mid-June. The bakery and store will likely reopen in September when the county road improvements are complete.
Monti, which is named for a neighborhood in Rome, uses both handmade and dry pasta and offers authentic antipasti, pasta dishes, pizza and more as well as desserts made in house by Brea Currey of Seabird Bakery. The menu features a few changes each week and is influenced by Gainey’s deep attachment to Rome, where she lived for periods of time in her youth. As an adult, she’s traveled there annually on solo pilgrimages.
“I’ve had a love affair with Rome. Some places you have a heart connection with and Rome is that for me,” she said.
Added Kramer: “We love the classic simplicity of Italian cuisine and restaurants, no fuss.”
A significant challenge for the couple has been balancing family life with their work responsibilities. With three young children, Kramer and Gainey alternate which nights they work — although they also enjoy running the restaurant side by side when childcare allows.
“Faye loves having dinner here,” smiled Gainey. “It’s so fun to see her have pride here and know her way around.”
The couple stressed the critical role that employees and collaborators have had in their venture.
“We start with our staff and build the business from there,” Kramer said. “We’ve been lucky to collaborate with people who care both about community and what we are trying to do.”
Monti is open Friday through Tuesday from 5 to 10 p.m. Reservations can be made at https://www.montimontimonti.com/.