Rockfish came off the Opie out of Garibaldi that morning and a pair of farmers had just dropped off a box of vegetables – just a typical day in the Salmonberry Saloon.
“You can taste what it tastes like to be an Oregonian,” Co-proprietor Chantelle Hylton said Friday as the sun sunk over Nehalem Bay. “We’re sourcing really intentionally.”
She added supporting regional food producers – such as Nehalem River Ranch, Moon River Farm, Green Fork Farm, Brickyard Farms, Bennett Family Farm, CS Fishery, Nevør Shellfish Farm, JAndy Oyster Co., Nestucca Bay Creamery, Fraga Farmstead Creamery and Jacobsen Salt – is the crux of the Salmonberry Saloon.
“The heart of all this is people being so daring and experimental,” Hylton said. “[Supporting these producers] is the most important thing in the world. It’s pouring money into the community.”
Almost exactly a year passed between Hylton and Patrick Rock, fiancé and co-proprietor, pulling into Wheeler from Portland to make the coastal city their new home to embark on a new adventure – owning a food business – and March 16, the day Salmonberry Saloon officially opened.
“The whole process has been wonderful and dreamy,” Hylton said. “There is something bubbly and magic about Wheeler.”
Over that year, a full renovation has taken place at the Salmonberry Saloon, the former site of the Tsunami Grill and originally the Tyee Grill from the 1940s. The pair even uncovered the former exterior wall of the Tyee Grill during the renovation. Now, with a completely redesigned dining area, kitchen, bar, deck and spirit, the restaurant has the capacity to seat about a total of 110 customers.
And, a mere week after opening, the restaurant was steadily filling as Hylton and Rock sat to chat with the North Coast Citizen.
“People just wanted the bar back and have this view,” Hylton said, “They’re happy to be back in their old haunt.”
The bar, with its spectacular view of Nehalem Bay, is also host to Oregon-born libations such as Fort George Brewery, Buoy Beer (both from Astoria), Day Wines and Jackalope Wine Cellars and Art+Science Ciders.
“We have a ton of wine made by small producers in Oregon,” Hylton said, adding they didn’t feel the need to support larger operations, “They don’t need our money. They’re bajillionaires.”
Above us in the bar, surfboards are mounted to the ceiling, a 6-foot-tall carved eagle greets guests as they enter the doorway (which is painted gold) and special mementoes decorate the entire restaurant – like a worn edition of Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion” nestled between a pair of maritime wheel bookends.
“There’s a story behind everything in here,” Hylton said, teasing one. “’Sometimes a Great Notion’ was a driving force, esthetically.”
Salmonberry Saloon has done a wondrous job to be a physical representation of the area – from the food to the décor – and it may be partially due to Rock’s roots – which date as far back as the 1930s. His grandmother taught at the schoolhouse, his uncle owned a general store in Brighton, his aunt and uncle worked at Wheeler High School and his father worked at the Bunkhouse and later a local sawmill.
“My dad used to make me hike the Salmonberry to go fish,” Rock said. “I moved to the beach in 1986 and left in 1995… But I never got over this.”
If you ask the two what it’s like to own a restaurant, they’ll tell you it’s about building relationships and lots and lots of work.
“It’s just like our previous life,” Rock said.
Prior to opening the labor of love on Nehalem Bay, Hylton was a concert and festival producer and Rock is a contemporary artist and former university instructor.
“But I was never gone,” Rock said, “I never really left.”
With the restaurant in full swing, the pair said they are enjoying their fantastic staff and surprise of a chef, Jeff Day III.
“[He] dropped in out of nowhere,” Hylton laughed.
Looking forward, the next project for the pair is renovating the space and stage upstairs.
“We’ll do music shows and community events,” Hylton said, “We heard there was a prom up there once.”
As their second Friday night got even busier and happy patrons found seats, Rock and Hylton took in the atmosphere of their new home before setting about on their night at the Salmonberry Saloon.
“That’s also exciting,” Rock said, “Seeing what happens tomorrow.”
Salmonberry Saloon is located at 380 S. Marine Dr. in Wheeler. The restaurants hours are 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday (closed Monday, Tuesday until summer). For more information, call 503-714-1423 or visit salmonberrysaloon.com.