Goodbye, Christina’s

A beloved island culinary legend, Christina’s Restaurant, has shuttered its doors forever.

“That day is over; Christina’s is done,” said Christina Orchid, who opened her namesake establishment thirty years ago, in 1980.

She said the restaurant will never open under that name again.

Christina and her husband Bruce operated the restaurant together until June 15, 2008, when they arranged to sell the restaurant to Maureen Mullen, formerly of Seattle.

But Christina’s just hasn’t been turning a profit lately. It’s been rocky for the restaurant over the past year or so, and Mullen hosted Christina’s last dance on March 6. Mullen said that lately she had cut every expense she possibly could at the restaurant.

“We lowered our prices, we incorporated the bar menu into the regular menu … we had a lot of drink specials. I cleaned the restaurant and washed the linens myself,” she said.

She also used Facebook to get the word out about trivia night and almost-weekly dances.

“It’s the economy and it’s the industry; people just are not going out to eat,” said Mullen. “People are coming in and drinking water or having one glass of wine, sharing their appetizer and their dessert to save money. It’s understandable. Hundreds of restaurants are going out of business every week in this country. It’s happy hour wars in the city … Bar business is up, food business is down.”

“Personally, I’m walking away,” said Mullen. “I don’t know what’s happening with the restaurant. I’m assuming Bruce and Christina Orchid may do something with it.”

“I own part of the building and am responsible for the space, but I haven’t decided what I will do,” said Christina. “It would make a lovely apartment or two.”

She said that although she has received “an interesting offer” from a well-known chef, chances that the space will house a new restaurant add up to “a big maybe.”

For the moment, Christina is sifting through old photographs and remembering a 28-year long labor of love.

“(Christina’s) was THE business that put Orcas Island on the map as far as a certain kind of tourist goes,” she said. “The achievement of creating and maintaining a four star restaurant on Orcas Island is quite remarkable. It was a great, charming world-class restaurant. It changed the timbre of the island. In 1983 it was featured in Bon Appetit magazine, and shortly after that in many others, including Food and Wine and Cuisine. I actually do have a dollar for everybody who told me the reason they came or moved to Orcas is because of Christina’s … we received best chef awards from Food and Wine and Pacific Northwest. I have five boxes of magazine travel articles about Christina’s.”

Christina also made guest chef appearances on the Today Show, Good Morning America, the Early Show on CBS, and other television shows.

Christina said she and Bruce made a priority of customer service, keeping the restaurant open year-round.

“Christina’s food was always generally regarded as fabulous, nevertheless it’s always service that makes a restaurant,” she said. “If people had a complaint, I listened. In January and February when other restaurants closed, we stayed open, because even though we lost money we wanted to be a real restaurant and be there for people in the community. I really appreciate hugely how much the island community contributed to our success; it wasn’t just us. We were there for them and they were there for us. We survived two major recessions, the Black Monday stock market crash in 1987, and the tech downturn in the late 90’s.”

But owning a restaurant is an enormous amount of work. Christina said that after 28 years, she and Bruce were exhausted, and now they’re taking it easy. For Bruce, that involves teaching at OASIS and coordinating the Farm to Cafeteria program; Christina continues to be involved with the Children’s House culinary school, offers some catering services and cares for a large garden at their home.

And for their five-year-old grandson, Sebastian, who loves to visit, Bruce is “Grumps” and Christina is “Nana.”

Susan Fletcher, co-proprietor of the Turtleback Farm Inn since 1983, has been recommending Christina’s to her guests for decades.

She said of the restaurant, “You have a very sophisticated clientele that appreciate a fine dining choice; (Christina) brought a style that was eclectic but certainly creative. We’re saddened at the loss of a landmark restaurant that has provided our guests an incredible experience on a little island north of Seattle. We certainly wish them the very best.”