The Pine Cone Cafe in UP has new owners who will be familiar to locals
The Pine Cone Cafe in University Place is here to stay.
The 60-plus-year-old diner known for its American diner eats has new owners who plan to keep the name and diner concept the same.
Two local restaurant owners, Dana Claar Verellen and her husband Dave Verellen, are the Pine Cone’s new owners.
“When we moved from Seattle in 2013, we moved to UP and we live four blocks from the Pine Cone,” said Claar Verellen, in explaining the couple’s long relationship as customers of the Pine Cone Cafe.
Their daughter, who is 9 now, flexed a finicky palate when they first visited the Pine Cone, which operates at 7912 27th St. W. “She just grew to love it there. And she’s really particular about what she eats and they have a few things there that she loves to eat.”
She added, “At some point, we would go there three times a week.”
For their daughter, the home fries were a menu favorite.
For mom and dad, it was the spaghetti that tasted like it was slow-cooked all day. “It is definitely like a very homemade spaghetti like it sat in a crock pot all day, which I love. It has mushrooms and bell peppers and sausage. It’s really hearty, but it’s definitely not traditional Italian spaghetti. We loved it,” said Claar Verellen. They plan to continue making those same recipes they expect to get from Steve Warp, who bought the restaurant in 1986 after a string of several owners had operated it as a neighborhood cafe since the 1950s. While Warp no longer will be at the helm of the Pine Cone Cafe, he’ll remain the restaurant’s landlord. He owns the building and manages the commercial spaces that are adjacent to the Pine Cone Cafe.
THE SALE OF THE PINE CONE
When Claar Verellen saw Warp had announced the beloved cafe’s closure in June 2020, she reached out to ask about buying the restaurant. “I just kind of threw it out there,” she said. Warp was receptive.
“Because we’d been there so much, he knew us and knew that we owned restaurants also and so he ended up getting back to me. He said let’s talk and so we did.”
Owning a diner has always been on her restaurant bucket list. Her other two restaurants are vastly different. Zodiac is a cook-your-own steak restaurant that’s a supper club with a cocktail den vibe. Dusty’s is a neighborhood destination with great sandwiches and a come-as-you-are edict.
“I’ve always had a diner on my list of things I would love to own. Originally, my idea for Dusty’s was more diner-ish, but it didn’t really fit into the space. Sometimes the space guides you more than the other way around. It just didn’t work at Dusty’s. It wasn’t the right spot for a diner. So owning this restaurant is me fulfilling a secret wish to run a diner.”
THE NEW VERSION OF THE PINE CONE
“It’s going to be a diner and the name’s not going to change,” said Claar Verellen. “But there’s more that we want to do with it,” she said.
Claar Verellen said she’s looking forward to keeping the core menu items she and her family love, such as the home fries and spaghetti, but also diner classics such as the hot open-faced sandwiches served with either sliced turkey breast or sliced beef.
Do expect long overdue changes. The dining room has not been updated in practically a generation and is in need of a makeover. Second to that, the menu is too large for a modern restaurant and they’ll scale back some of the offerings to keep the kitchen running efficiently.
What will stay the same far outpaces any minor changes they’ll make. Those green-and-brown booths will stay. In fact, they’ll be the color inspiration for the refreshed decor.
They’ll also continue serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
The menu will be streamlined, but they’ll also be adding brunch-style items to the menu to appeal to more diners. They’ll also add cocktails, but there won’t be the addition of a bar into the space. They’re likely going to place a back bar near the service window.
Expect the footprint to mostly stay the same. Before selling the Pine Cone, Warp had already converted some of the cafe into commercial office space. The back banquet room remains, and will continue to serve as a dining area.
They expect the refresh to take some time. If all goes as planned, a reopening will happen by the summer, but that depends on delivery of equipment they’ll need in the kitchen, Claar Verellen said.
THE PINE CONE CAFE
Where: 7912 27th St. W., University Place
Reopening: By summer 2022
ANOTHER TACOMA LEGACY HAS SOLD TO NEW OWNERS
Did you catch my story two weeks ago about the sale of The Lobster Shop? That longtime Ruston Way restaurant has new owners as of Dec. 13. The new owners will be familiar to fans of waterfont restaurants. The new owners used to own Steamers at Titlow Beach, which closed in 2021. Read the story here.