When life gives you a pandemic, make new products. That’s the attitude Chantelle Hylton and Patrick Rock adopted at The Salmonberry, their restaurant in Wheeler.
In addition to offering takeout and outdoor dining on a deck overlooking Nehalem Bay, they feature a line of Salmonberry Commons branded food products, including “Taste the Coast!” meal kits.
The kits are created in collaboration with a range of North Coast food producers.
‘Just a dream’ made reality
In a previous life, Hylton was a music promoter, while Rock worked as a gallery owner and art teacher in Portland. The pair took a road trip to scout coastal locations to move to, and pulled into the parking lot of the former Tsunami Bar and Grill.
The restaurant was up for sale, and with Rock having family roots in Wheeler, they decided to buy it.
“It was just a dream,” Hylton recalled.
The Salmonberry opened a year later, in March 2018, with a renovated and redesigned interior.
The duo also updated the menu to feature local products as much as possible, to avoid buying from the big box trucks.
“It feels like us here now,” Hylton said. “It still blows my mind that I can make food with ingredients from friends.”
The pandemic changed everything
Two years to the day after the opening, The Salmonberry shuttered under a state order. Hylton recalls shortages of food items at the beginning of the pandemic.
With access to wholesale suppliers, she purchased staples like yeast, flour and beans and resold it to the local community.
She also started making pasta, “to keep myself sane, my hands occupied and the lights on.”
Hylton sold the Salmonberry Commons-branded line of products at the restaurant and the Manzanita Farmers Market.
“I couldn’t hug my friends and neighbors but I could make food for them,” she said.
When Oregon allowed restaurants to reopen, the Salmonberry opted for outdoor dining and takeout only.
“We’ll open (for indoor dining) as soon as we feel it’s safe and enjoyable for our staff and customers,” Hylton said.
The owners chose to focus on quality of life and care for their staff. They drastically reduced restaurant hours, opening only from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday through Monday. They also gave everyone raises and instituted tip pooling.
“It’s more manageable and focused,” said Hylton. “And much less stressful.”
A new opportunity
Meal kits have been part of The Salmonberry’s reinvention in a community Hylton describes as “pretty forward thinking, creative and open to new things.”
Hylton recalls at the farmers market, “people started asking for meal kits” to cook at home.
Hylton and Rock saw an opportunity for their kitchen both to satisfy customers who value handmade food from the North Coast and to continue purchasing from local producers who had seen a steep dropoff in restaurant business over the past year.
Salmonberry Commons does not want to compete with app-based purveyors of meal kits.
“It’s a totally different thing,” Hylton said. “When people go to the farmers market, they can see all of the ingredients that go into our meal kit. And they know what kitchen the food comes from.”
The company first sold their meal kits at the farmers market and continues to sell them at the restaurant location.
Several made-to-order meal kits are available for purchase online, including an Oregon Dungeness crab mac and cheese and an assortment of pasta dishes, all curated from ingredients caught, grown, harvested or made locally. All meal kits can be prepared in a few minutes.
“Even the most involved meal kit will be easy for a beginner,” Hylton said.
The Salmonberry delivers the kits on Thursdays in Tillamook and Clatsop Counties and can overnight them anywhere in the continental U.S.
Hylton underscored the freshness factor, stating that meal kits are often finished in the kitchen just before the delivery van pulls up. The plan is to soon offer a subscription option as well.
“People can basically eat the same food we offer at the restaurant,” Hylton said. “We all love what we do, and each meal kit is a tribute to that love and collaboration.”