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The Food Network films, and revives, Keyport’s Whiskey Creek Steak House
KEYPORT — Before chain restaurants came to Silverdale, before Poulsbo’s downtown was revitalized, there was steak and live music seven nights a week at Whiskey Creek in downtown Keyport.
Then the economy hit. Folks stopped dining out, and the price of meat went up. Whiskey Creek Steakhouse, more than two decades old, was in trouble.“It’s time for a new injection,” said Pat Ziarnik, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Karan.
The Ziarniks turned to an unlikely source: the Food Network.
One evening two years ago, Pat and Karan were watching “Restaurant: Impossible,” a reality show where Chef Robert Irvine and a crew turn around a failing restaurant in two days and with a $10,000 budget (on the network’s dime).
Karan said when they saw Food Network producers were looking for more restaurants, she told Pat to email them that night. The next morning, during coffee at home, the Ziarniks unexpectedly got a call from the network. However, the network didn’t schedule the show until recently, when the Ziarniks got a second call in June.
“We had to do something,” Karan said. “Things were just going away.”
The “Restaurant: Impossible” crew came to Whiskey Creek Steakhouse Thursday and Friday, and despite being booked solid for Friday evening’s grand re-opening, the restaurant is open for business Saturday.
“I’m so grateful for them to come out and help us,” Karan said. “The last four years have been a slow decline,” she said. The past year has seen a monthly decline, she added.
Pat said Whiskey Creek’s income is down 48 percent since 2007. They’ve sold their possessions, used their savings and life insurance, and even lost their house in the White Horse neighborhood.
“People say they love our food,” he said. “But it doesn’t pay the bills, I need money in the cash register that says you love it.”
“Restaurant: Impossible” reworks the menu and upgrades the decor, something the Ziarniks are split on. Pat said he isn’t nervous, even though Chef Irvine is known to be harsh on his restaurateurs.
“He might rip our food apart, but our food is the best around,” Pat said. Irvine has already ordered ingredients for new menu items, but Pat said he isn’t sure of any details of what is to come.
Karan, on the other hand, said, with a slight laugh, she is “scared to death.” She said she is ready for an outsider to come in and help save the restaurant, and doesn’t want to get emotional on the show.
“It’s not about me, its about saving the restaurant and our employees jobs.”
Whiskey Creek Steakhouse has about 20 employees, Karan said. Head chef Jon Barnes also said he is not nervous, and is going to rely on his modest background if confronted by Irvine.
He said on the show, the other chefs might get defensive of their food or their process, but he said this is an opportunity for him to learn. Barnes doesn’t have any formal culinary training, but has worked in a few other kitchens, mainly JJ’s Fish House in Poulsbo. Whiskey Creek is his first kitchen as head chef.
“We have strong players here, we’ll be fine,” Barnes said. “I really like it here, its family-oriented. Pat gives us freedom to be creative.”
The Ziarniks want to continue the history of their restaurant. Their building was built in 1927 as Keyport’s first mercantile before it turned into a tavern, where it remained for 60 years.
The Ziarniks moved to the area in 1992 after working in Texas and Arizona as travel marketers. Karan is from Magnolia in Seattle, Pat from Wisconsin, but when they visited the area in 1990, an idea set in to own their own restaurant in a beautiful piece of Washington.
They bought the Torpedo Shop Tavern in 1993, but wanted a more family-friendly joint. They took out the jukebox, added some good steaks and re-opened as Whiskey Creek in 1995.
Pat said it was named after Karan’s favorite restaurant in Colorado, but it also has a local connection. The stones in the fireplace are from Whiskey Creek Beach near Port Angeles, which was used as a drop point for liquor from Canada during Prohibition.
They hit a snag early on — the tavern customers stopped coming. By fortune, a local food critic came that year and wrote an excellent review of the restaurant. “That night [the paper came out] we were slammed,” Pat said. “We ran out of food.”
The Ziarniks are more prepared this time. The episode will likely air in December, giving the restaurant “months of repercussions,” Pat said.“The community is really excited, they’re happy what we’re bringing to the community,” he said.