FRIDAY HARBOR -- You know a restaurant is popular when people line up outside before the doors are even open. That was the case Friday at Downriggers Restaurant on San Juan Island.
“It's been a long time that we've been waiting,” said Ken Nilsson, as he stood patiently.
In Nilsson’s case, he has been waiting for three years.
“It's very special -- location, food, management. It's terrific,” he said.
But at 11:00 on Friday morning, the long wait was over.
Owner Debbie Rishel opened the doors and greeted guests as they filled her modern, tasteful new space.
“It’s a bit surreal,” she said, “but it still feels like home.”
Downriggers was an institution on the Friday Harbor waterfront for 27 years before it burned down in 2013 after an electrical fire. The restaurant was one of Friday Harbor’s biggest employers and was popular with both tourists and locals -- not to mention the workers.
Waitress Leslie Keyt has worked there for 26 years. Her daughter now works there, too.
To Keyt, everyone at Downriggers is family.
"They've raised Debbie's kids and taken good care of my kids, too,” she said, choking back tears. “It’s good to have it back."
Debbie Rishel still has the last 20 dollar bill salvaged from the restaurant the night of the fire. It was encased in glass and given to her by a bartender who was working that night.
It’s a symbol of the struggle to rise from the ashes.
“It has definitely been a period of putting one foot in front of the other, figuring out what the next step was, and how to get to this day,” said Rishel.
By lunch time Friday, Downriggers was once again standing room only -- filled with a grateful community hungry to support a beloved business and a family business eager to serve.