Past meets present at Downriggers reopening

It’s been more than three years since Downriggers restaurant closed after being ravaged by an electrical fire, but for manager Crystal Griffith, it’s like no time has passed.

“We’re a really tight family,” said Griffith, who has worked at Downriggers, off and on, for 16 years.

Of the 50 staff members who were employed at the time of the fire, about 15 have returned to work. The Spring Street Landing restaurant reopened on Thursday, Nov. 11 and about 700 people were served during the first three days.

After its closure, the restaurant opened a food truck called Roadriggers for two summers in 2014 and ‘15. It parked where the razed building stood on Front Street, then on Argyle Avenue when construction on the new Spring Street Landing building began in 2015. Setting up shop in a new location was never an option.

“You really can’t beat this location,” said Griffith.

The dining room still seats about 150 guests, but open spaces have replaced the former building’s segmented booths. Windows line the dining room to show panoramic views of the Port of Friday Harbor.

“We tried to capture the old with the new,” said Harold Rishel, who owns the restaurant with wife Debbie.

Old favorites, like chicken Gorgonzola and clam chowder, are back, and new ones, like chicken and waffles, as well as blackened salmon and scallops. About 80 percent of the new menus include new items.

The Rishels plan to resurrect Sunday brunch once staffing is full. A handful of additional lunch and dinner items will be added then, as well.

Tim Kelley of Friday Harbor returned as a guest to see familiar faces.

“I’ve always liked coming here because of the atmosphere and the people who work here,” said Kelley. “I’ve seen a lot of old faces, and new ones I’ve never seen before. I have hope that it’ll be the same place it used to be.”

For many, it can’t be the same without Mary Ann Ragsdale. Ragsdale, who started serving at Downriggers around 1991, passed from a heart attack about a month before reopening. The restaurant closed on the Sunday after opening to hold a memorial in her honor.

Ragsdale was like a mother to many, including Gabby Rishel, the owners’ daughter.

“It was difficult for everyone that she wasn’t there for the reopening of the space,” said Gabby, who was Rasdales’ goddaughter. “She left a lasting impression on all of us.”

Downriggers is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. or 10, at the staff’s discretion.