After 15 years, the woman who turned what was once a hardware store into the beloved Hardware Store Restaurant is handing over the reins to new managers.
Melinda Powers, who was the establishment’s managing partner and general manager, said she has stepped away from her duties completely and left it to a husband-and-wife pair, Rob and Janie Andrews, as co-operating partners, and Adam Chumas as general manager, to keep things going. Her retirement went into effect Jan. 1.
“I’m 67 years old. For the last 15 years, I’ve pretty much lived my life within those four walls next door,” said Powers, speaking from Relish cooking school, which The Hardware Store Restaurant operates. “I just have a really big bucket list that I’d like to tackle. I figured now is a good time to do that.”
She said she would not have made such a decision if she did not have Rob Andrews, whom she first met years ago when he was a customer at The Hardware Store Restaurant. The two have been in business before, operating a Seattle-based restaurant, 50 North. But after it closed, Andrews then became a co-partner with Powers in owning the Hardware Store Restaurant.
Janie and Rob — who live on Vashon and have college-age boys who worked at the establishment — are optimistic about The Hardware Store Restaurant’s future.
“The beauty is the Hardware Store is by no means broke — it’s running at a very, very high level. Melinda has an amazing legacy that she is leaving,” Rob said. “It is up to us to just continue. We don’t plan any major changes at the Hardware Store.”
He did say, however, that they would “update as things start to show ware” and “be aggressive in keeping the restaurant brand new.”
Recently, The Hardware Store Restaurant added Relish, the cooking school just next door.
“We’re very excited about this space; this is going to be a lot of different things to different people,” Rob said. “Some people might come here for a cooking class; others might have an anniversary or a rehearsal dinner; a corporate event; a birthday. So, this space … is going to fill a lot of different voids on the island that aren’t available.”
Janie said, “Melinda’s created this amazing space; it’s just beautiful — and it can be used in so many different ways — so that’s one thing we’re really working on.”
The Hardware Store Restaurant is open seven days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The establishment boasts an eclectic menu, from Baja fish tacos to shrimp and grits. Its homey atmosphere, with hardwood floors and local artwork, includes expansive windows allowing customers to look out onto the island’s main drag, Vashon Highway.
Powers said she wants customers to know The Hardware Store Restaurant has had the same mission since it opened, “creating a great community gathering place.”
“That will always be the driving force behind the restaurant,” she said.
As the new general manager, Chumas said he is excited to work at the Hardware Store, which has around 55 employees — and as high as 70 in the summer months.
“It’s clear in the five months that I’ve been here, when you see the families, the friends, the visitors and everyone come through the door, it truly is the cornerstone of Vashon,” he said. “It’s awesome to be a part of that.”
That’s saying something, considering Chumas has a substantial resume in the hospitality industry, including working as a beverage director for all of Seattle Chef Tom Douglas’ restaurants. He first got to know Powers teaching a wine-making class at Relish. Later, she reached out to him with the idea of a management role.
“She explained to me she wanted to retire,” Chumas said. “The next week, I met Rob and Janie and we were on our way to where we are today.”
Powers said she chose Chumas as general manager because of his working philosophy.
“Adam, when we were talking, he said, ‘This is my dream job and I hope it’s the last job I ever have,’” Powers said. “I love that.”
While the new managers gave their vision for the HardwareStore Restaurant going forward, other long-time employees gave their take on what Powers’ leadership has meant to them.
Jamie Clapperton, bar manager at The Hardware Store Restaurant, has worked at the restaurant for about 10 years. Powers hired her, but their relationship goes back longer than that. Clapperton went to school with Powers’ kids on the island.
“Growing up, I always wanted to work at this restaurant,” Clapperton said. “I remember thinking of this place as what this island needed and being right front and center in the downtown — a building that has so much history and so much heart.”
Clapperton believes that in opening The Hardware Store Restaurant, Powers created more than just a staple institution for the island.
“I feel it’s kind of the heart of this island,” she said. “I speak for myself, but I think I can speak for quite a few people in this community who feel that way.”
Asked about what it’s been like to work with Powers over the years, Clapperton said she could say an endless amount of good things about her.
“I personally feel grateful working for someone like Melinda,” Clapperton said. “She is supportive. She is always wanting to educate you and build you up. She always believes in people.”
Not only is Powers a great professional mentor, Clapperton added, “the way she carries herself “can light up a room.”
“I feel like she’s kind of weaved within every fiber of this restaurant,” Clapperton said.
She called Powers a strong woman in business and someone who has an eye for great food and drinks in an atmosphere people can feel comfortable in.
Clapperton said Powers’ retirement brings mixed emotions.
“Something about her rubs off on you and it feels good,” she said. “There is a bit of a sadness, and yet I knew this was coming. This is such a deserving time for her in her life. She gets to fully enjoy the next step in her life and that makes me really happy.”