July 24, 2000
(Left to right) Bill and Lola Zimmerman, along with their son Ron and Carrie Van Dyck at the groundbreaking for the new Herbfarm Restaurant.
by Bronwyn Wilson, senior staff reporter
From chive plants in pots beside a Fall City road to a 6,000-square-foot restaurant next door to the Red Hook Brewery, The Herbfarm Restaurant has come a long way.
The new restaurant--scheduled to open this fall--may have grown, but the nine-course menu with its ever-changing harvest of common and unusual produce remains the same.
"The foods we serve attract the rhythms of the season on land and sea," says owner Carrie Van Dyck. For example, she says, when Copper River salmon and sour cherries are in season.
And the meal is not just a showcase of culinary glories, as The Herbfarm brochure states, it's theater. Van Dyck explains, "Theater sets a scene and creates a mood, and I think that's what we do here."
Inside the new restaurant, the greeting room, private and main dining rooms, and walk-through wine cellar will give customers a feeling of comfort and elegance. And surrounding the outside, herb gardens will continue to inspire seasonally unique menus.
The Herbfarm's beginnings started with a sign advertising "herbs for sale" posted on the roadside, with chives in pots beside it. In 1974, Van Dyck's mother-in-law, Lola Zimmerman, lived outside of rural Fall City with her husband, Bill, on property that was once a dairy farm. Across from them was a "u-pick" berry farm, which drew carloads of people at berry picking time.
Lola had an herb garden and had divided the extra chives, but there was no one to give them to. That's when she thought of the people picking berries across the street and parked her chives and sign by the road. People loved the herbs and in the following years, Lola's herb garden grew, this time on purpose. Bill built a greenhouse and display benches, plus he remodeled an old tractor shed into a shop where books, dried flowers, and baskets were sold.
In 1986, Carrie Van Dyck and her husband, Ron Zimmerman, Lola and Bill's son, pitched in to help with the growing family business. Together, the couple started the Herbfarm School, mail order catalog, and classes to help people learn more about herbs, including herbs for cooking, medicinal uses, and crafts. They also opened the Herbfarm Restaurant and began serving educational luncheons, and later dinners, which were introduced to address customer requests to learn more about culinary herbs.
"We always educated people about herbs when they were dining with us. And we started with a tour of the gardens," Van Dyck says of the educational luncheons. She mentions that after the first two weeks the classes began, there was never an unbooked seat. The educational luncheon became so popular, some people had a long wait before an opening was available.
Due to an electrical short in 1997, a fire destroyed The Herbfarm. Jerry Traunfeld, The Herbfarm's award-winning chef who had joined the four-star restaurant in 1990, began writing about his celebrated cuisine after the fire closed the restaurant. He authored The Herbfarm Cookbook, a number-one selling cookbook at Amazon.com. Most recently, Chef Traunfeld won the Best American Chef for the Northwest Region at the annual James Beard Awards in New York City.
Last year, The Herbfarm moved into Hedges Cellar in Issaquah, a temporary home until the restaurant could locate a permanent building. Chef Traunfeld is back in the Herbfarm kitchen, slicing, dicing, and creating meals into an artistic event. Former customers have happily returned for every delicious morsel prepared with his talents.
While dining, customers can choose to either sit alone or at the large table called The European Common Table, where they might feast on wild salmon in squash blossoms with big leaf maple blossom ice cream for dessert.
According to Van Dyck, after four to five hours at a nine-course meal with five matched wines, the people who choose to sit together are at first strangers around the big table, but by the end of the evening they become well acquainted, feeling like companions sharing a food adventure.
"It's one of the most exciting tables there," Van Dyck says. "[It's] usually the last table to leave when the dining is done."
Even though The Herbfarm found a place in Issaquah, the restaurant still needed a permanent home. Due to zoning and permit issues, Van Dyck and Zimmerman were beginning to realize that their new restaurant would not be built in Fall City.
Soon they were approached by Phil Sherburne, developer of the Willows Lodge Hotel. He thought The Herbfarm Restaurant should make its home in Woodinville and would be the ideal complement for the 88-room hotel which opens in September. Sometime after, ink on paper sealed the deal and the golden shovel tossed a few lumps of dirt at the official groundbreaking held June 14.
The Herbfarm Restaurant, which has been featured in every major American food publication and receives rave reviews from food critics, is now under construction and set to open this November.
Van Dyck says she's in the market now for a couple of acres close to the Woodinville site to grow zucchini, lavender, rosemary, fruit trees, and the restaurant's special baby corn. Most of the restaurant's produce comes straight from their garden, or local growers.
The Herbfarm in Fall City, where it all began, is now for sale, and the new owners will even have the opportunity to keep Rooty, the pet pig, as part of the purchase option. If they choose to not keep him, Rooty will happily move to Woodinville with his owners when the restaurant opens. And why not--after the groundbreaking ceremony, it was reported in the Seattle Times that Rooty was happy about it, so he must feel a part of the Herbfarm's success.
For more information, call 206-784-2222 or visit The Herbfarm's website at www.theherbfarm.com.