David Ellertsen and Lee Horswill risked it all. They left successful careers and a circle of friends behind in Las Vegas to start a new life on Orcas Island.
Just a few days before their new bakery was set to open, disaster struck when the couple was involved in a car accident that nearly destroyed their dreams.
“People say the island tests you,” Horswill said. “We just didn’t think it would happen this soon.”
Despite their misfortune, Brown Bear Baking is now up and running on the corner of Main Street and North Beach, but it was a rocky start. Their grand opening was delayed by more than a week while Horswill recuperated in the hospital.
But now the pair is even more appreciative of the place they call home.
“I am just so grateful to wake up every morning and see a sunrise,” Horswill said.
After a long day of construction in the bakery on June 30, Ellertsen and Horswill were driving home around midnight to their house in Deer Harbor. Just five minutes from their destination, Ellertsen recalls that the car went off the road, through a pair of trees and into the water. He was driving and Horswill had fallen asleep in the passenger seat.
Submerged in seven feet of water, it was enough for the entire car to be engulfed. Ellertson kicked out his window and came to the surface. Screaming Horswill’s name, he realized his partner was still in the car below.
He dove back into the water and found him passed out. After pulling him out of the water, he started squeezing him from behind to get water out of his lungs. He broke several of Horswill’s ribs in the process. He eventually began to cough up sea water and blood. After being flown to St. Joseph’s in Bellingham, Horswill was in ICU and critical care for two days because of lung problems and the potential of cardiac arrest.
The accident occurred on Horswill’s birthday, and he says the best gift he received was getting a second chance.
While he convalesced, their employees kept forging ahead, preparing the space to open. The bakery opened on July 13.
“We hire good people who enjoy working together – the machine works so much better that way,” Horswill said. “It’s a great environment to work in – everyone contributes.”
Ellertsen is an architect with a design and construction background. Horswill will continue to work in hospitality and marketing for the casino industry. He will be on the island full-time once their Las Vegas house sells.
Both have lived in Vegas for decades and recently decided they wanted a new direction.
“We were looking for a change in lifestyle – both personally and professionally,” Horswill said.
As avid chefs and bakers, the couple began taking courses during their vacations. They’ve attended classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute, which they call “intense.”
They started researching opening a bakery and looked at buildings in Las Vegas, New Orleans, Massachusetts, Northern California and Seattle.
When they saw a photo of a bakery for sale on Orcas, they immediately flew out. Both men say the island felt like home as soon as they drove into Eastsound.
Since their big leap of faith, Ellertson and Horswill have put money and sweat equity into their new bakery.
The space now has an open kitchen so patrons can see the magic behind the finished products.
Right now they are offering breakfast fare such as muffins, quiche and sticky buns and coffee from Victrola in Seattle. Soon the bakery will have bread and pastries. In the fall they will launch a light lunch menu.
“Orcas Island makes you breathe,” Ellertsen said. “It is very invigorating.”