JANUARY 13, 1997
Fall City firefighters worked most of the night on the Jan. 6 blaze that consumed The Herbfarm's restaurant.
Following the fire last week that destroyed the popular Herbfarm Restaurant in Fall City, these charred timbers were all that remained of the four-star restaurant the next day.
Photos by Jana Treisman.
by Lisa Allen, Valley View Editor
Life goes on at The Herbfarm. Although the gourmet restaurant at the Fall City business was destroyed by fire a week ago, the nursery and gift shop remain open and the mail order business is continuing as usual, say owners Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck.
And hopes by the couple of reviving the famous eatery and even expanding the business to include a country inn are still very much alive.
"Our plans are to get things up and running again," Van Dyck said. "But we haven't found out yet whether or not we will be able to get the permits."
The owners have been concerned that they may face zoning problems that could prevent the restaurant from opening in the same location. Over the years, zoning in the area has changed to residential. The restaurant operated by being "grandfathered in."
However, county building officials say zoning codes should not prevent the restaurant from being rebuilt, but only if the dimensions are the same as the original building. The zoning code could prevent the planned expansion of the restaurant and the construction of an inn.
In a newsletter dated last Thursday, King County Councilmember Louise Miller said the Herbfarm will be able to rebuild to its original size.
"However, if the Herbfarm wants to expand, a rezone or code amendment may be required," she said. "County staff are already working with the Herbfarm owners following this tragic event, and we are hopeful that all conditions can be met in order to restore this valued facility."
The County Council made room on its agenda Monday (after press time) to discuss the issue. Plans before the fire included expansion of the seating area by "just a few seats," said Van Dyck. The dining room had seated 30 guests.
Charred timbers are all that is left of the internationally-known dining spot that was famous for its nine-course, five-hour dinners. The fire destroyed crystal, china, and rare wines, including some Madeira bottled in 1795 that was being saved for New Year's 2000.
One of the few items saved from the fire was the much-treasured reservation list. "We had to call people on the list. They were so disappointed," said Van Dyck. "We were booked up part-way through June."
Van Dyck added that it was a double disaster, because the New Year's Eve dinner was canceled due to a power outage. The recent snowfall also crushed a greenhouse and some picnic tents. Then, just before the fire, water flooded the basement of the restaurant.
The popular cooking classes were also a casualty of the fire, but the owners said they hope to continue the classes in a different place--a location such as the Snoqualmie Winery or Honey Farm.
The Herbfarm business was started 24 years ago when Lola Zimmerman began putting out a few homegrown herbs on a bench by the side of the road with just a jar for payment. The next year, her husband Bill built a greenhouse and more benches on the old dairy farm where they planned to retire. The business eventually grew to include the world-famous restaurant opened almost 11 years ago by the Zimmermans' son Ron and his wife, Carrie Van Dyck.
The restaurant opened phone lines only twice a year for reservations for its dinners, which were priced at $129. The Herbfarm attracted gourmets from around the world and was listed as a four-star restaurant in the Mobil Guide for Washington state. The dinners were booked solid months in advance. The menu featured fresh Northwest food prepared by Chef Jerry Traufeld, who also created signature desserts such as Douglas Fir Sorbet.
Fire investigators have listed the cause of the fire at the restaurant as "probably electrical," said Fall City Fire Chief Chris Connor. The fire was first reported at 8:36 p.m. on Jan. 6. All available firefighters were gathered at the station for a special meeting, Connor said.
Fire crews arrived within minutes, but were stymied when the hydrant across the street failed to produce water. Tankers poured water on the blaze while fire officials called the water district to get the hydrant turned on, the district said. Construction crews had been working in the area previously, said Connor. "The water district is checking on why the valve had been turned off," he said.
Connor said fire crews had the fire out in less than two hours, but "taking care of hot spots took most of the night." The windy conditions, combined with construction of the building--which included several additions--made it harder to fight the flames, he said.