By Phil Clapham
For The Beachcomber
Given the success of the Sugar Shack — the cozy, eclectic restaurant in the middle of town — it’s a bit of a surprise to hear owner Hedy Anderson say, “I feel like I never really learned to cook.”
While she may not have had formal training in culinary school, she certainly began cooking early: the youngest of six kids in an Irish Philadelphia family, she began baking around the age of eight.
“It was a big family,” she said, “so everyone had to help out.”
Anderson went to college in Wisconsin and graduated with a “not terribly useful” degree in English literature. When she was 25, she traveled to Ireland — her grandparents had emigrated to the United States from there in 1915 — and spent a couple of years working, on and off, in County Cork. Unable to quite make a go of it, she returned to the U.S. and reconsidered.
The turning point in her life came in 2000 when she came to Vashon to visit a friend. She fell in love with the island and immediately decided that this was where she wanted to live and to raise her kids. So she moved, home-schooled her two children, and started a business making “Hedy Handbags.” Later, she applied her extensive culinary experience and began making her now-famous caramels. The business, King Caramel, was very successful — indeed, it’s hard to imagine anyone on Vashon who hasn’t been tempted by these hand-crafted sweet delights.
Longtime Vashonites will recall that the building the Sugar Shack now occupies was for 38 years a funky little gift store called The Little House, run by Bettie Edwards. Edwards employed a lot of young people there over the years, and patrons of Sugar Shack still sometimes tell Anderson that they once worked there. She bought the building in 2015 and turned it into a commissary kitchen which people could rent by the hour to produce whatever items they were selling.
The restaurant was established in 2017 as a joint venture by Anderson and Wally Bell.
“We started out with French dinners, to get our feet wet,” she said, “then expanded to other meals.”
Bell retired in March last year, an event that catapulted Anderson from someone who shared some of the cooking and baking to the person primarily responsible for managing the whole restaurant.
“Running a restaurant takes a lot of work,” she says, though she now has staff who help with the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts. Still, she’s slowed down the caramel business somewhat as a result of her additional workload (thankfully she’s still producing some).
When COVID-19 hit and the shutdown came, the effect was, ironically, to boost her business at a time when many others were struggling.
“We were already well set up for take-out,” she said, “so we found an almost immediate tripling of our business.”
Anderson also noted that she has benefitted greatly from an incredibly loyal clientele, for which she is tremendously grateful. When lockdown happened, her daughter Eva came home from college to ride out the pandemic at home, and Anderson immediately put her to work helping out.
“It was perfect,” she said. “Eva knows me and what I need, and we work really well together.”
When the Sugar Shack staff had to quarantine after one of the staff tested positive for the virus, she reached out to her mailing list to apologize. Then, in an effort to offer something more positive, she casually asked people to submit photos of their dogs. And submit they did — she received some three hundred images, covering pretty much every breed (plus a few cats). Anderson had them all framed, and they now cover two entire walls of the restaurant, a delightful tribute to Vashon’s dog-crazy islanders.
Asked what is her favorite thing to cook or bake, Anderson answered immediately: “Cheesecakes… we do big New York-style cheesecakes that can serve fourteen people.”
Outside the restaurant business, she is a farmer. She works a leased one-acre plot of land in a collective of ten people who together comprise Shoulder to Shoulder Farm. Some of the produce ends up, inevitably, on the restaurant’s menu.
Finally, there’s music. In hope of a gradual return to normal life, Anderson has already started booking musicians for Friday night concerts at the Sugar Shack this summer.
Sugar Shack is at 17636 100th Ave SW, across from the IGA parking lot. Look for the light blue 1966 Chevy C-10 pickup truck — named, by the way, Big Poppa — with the restaurant logo on the side.
Hedy Anderson and her staff serve breakfast (Monday through Friday) from 8 to 11 a.m. (usually biscuit sandwiches, burritos and some other items along with Pollard coffee. Lunch (Monday through Friday) is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and costs a flat $10 for whatever sandwich or other items they offer that day. Dinner (Monday through Saturday) is from 4 to 7 p.m. features a rotating menu of around twenty widely varied items including lasagna, pork roast, vegetarian options and many others together with sides, a wine of the day, and of course, dessert. The restaurant features a slew of baked goods throughout the day. It is closed on Sundays.
To receive the daily menu each morning, email Hedy Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call to order at 206-463-3782.