BELLINGHAM - A longtime local restaurant will be closing its doors later this spring unless someone is willing to buy it.
Sarah and David James, the owners of the Shrimp Shack, have decided to close the restaurant when the lease expires at the end of May unless a buyer can be found to take it over. They have operated the restaurant at 1200 Cornwall Ave. for nearly seven years, but they want to focus on their family, Sarah James said.
David James is involved in a computer software career, leaving Sarah to operate the restaurant. They both wanted more quality family time, and the differing work schedules make that difficult.
"I don't think I can commit to (a lease renewal) working 70 hours a week," Sarah James said.
The couple took over the Shrimp Shack in 2007, partly as a tribute to the Whittaker family. Robert and Verga Whittaker took over the Shrimp Shack restaurant and the fish market in the mid-1970s when it was in the Maritime Heritage Park area on West Holly Street. They closed the Shrimp Shack in 1998, and the building was demolished a year later.
Their son, Steven, reopened the restaurant on Cornwall Avenue in 2004. Steven Whittaker died of a heart attack in 2005 at the age of 38, followed by the death of his father about a year later.
David James had close ties with the Whittaker family and had been friends with Steven since kindergarten. While Sarah and David James didn't have experience in the restaurant industry, they decided to take it over and continue with all the original recipes, using local fish vendors. They also offer a variety of other food, including salads, burgers and sandwiches.
"It was Steve's dream to grow this restaurant and maybe to eventually franchise it," said David James. "We're hoping we can find someone passionate about cooking and running a restaurant to keep it going."
Many customers of the original Shrimp Shack on Holly Street became regulars when the restaurant moved to Cornwall Avenue, Sarah James said. In the years they've owned the restaurant, it's regularly busy on the weekends, with steady business during the work week, particularly for lunch.
"It's a place that's popular with families," she said, noting many customers enjoy getting fresh, local fish in a quick-style format.
A few items from the Holly Street Shrimp Shack made their way to the current location, including a large thresher shark that was caught on a hook and line in the waters near the San Juan islands in the 1970s (it hangs from the ceiling in the restaurant). For children, the saltwater fish tank also is a draw.
Sarah James said she hopes a new owner would keep the same format and use the original recipes. They also would consider selling to someone who might want to take the restaurant in a different direction.
In the coming three months, Sarah James said she's hoping some of the regulars will stop in to visit.
"It's been a very enjoyable experience for us," she said, noting her son and daughter have worked at the restaurant. "It's a fun family-run business."