Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a new, weekly Post-Record series, “Open for Business,” exploring how local businesses are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order, which has shuttered Washington’s nonessential businesses through May 4.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of Washington’s nonessential businesses in mid-March, Camas entrepreneurs Chuck and Janessa Stoltz had already figured out how to gracefully navigate more than a year’s worth of setbacks and roadblocks.
They’d jumped through permitting hoops, spent months waiting for city approval and had finally revamped the 1936 former Lakeside Chalet building they’d bought in February 2019.
When Governor Jay Inslee declared his “stay at home” order, the couple was already planning the grand opening of their new business, Acorn & the Oak, a “full-service flower shop by day and full-experience supper club by night” that combines the former Chicago couple’s passions: Janessa owned a Chicago flower shop called Forget Me Knodt and Chuck owned a restaurant in Iowa before they married in 2018 and moved to the Pacific Northwest with the dream of combining their talents and work experience “under one glorious roof.”
When they first started the revamping of the former Lakeside Chalet, the couple wanted to highlight the building’s retro appeal as well as its views of Lacamas Lake.
“We want it to feel like we are having you over to our house, and it is going to be a beautiful house.” Janessa told the Post-Record in 2019.
By mid-March, the remodel was nearly complete.
“The floors were in, the walls were in. The plumbing was in. But we didn’t have the floor sealed … or the commercial kitchen equipment in yet,” Janessa said. “Those were the last two things we needed.”
Luckily, the final remodeling touches — things the couple had to have to gain approval from the county’s health department — were one-person jobs and still able to get done under the “stay at home” order meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through strict physical distancing.
Now, the Stoltzes must figure out how to launch a new business amid the shutdown.
“It feels like this situation is going to last a while,” Janessa said. “We can’t rest on our laurels and let it pass.”
In fact, the couple has been anything but resting on their laurels. Janessa has been updating the entire community on the Acorn & the Oak’s progress through the business’ Facebook and Instagram sites, and has already earned love and accolades from future customers and patrons.
“A lot of people have really cared about us, even from the beginning,” Janessa said. “People have left cookies and flowers and cards on the doorstep. It’s been totally incredible, especially given that it’s been a long build-out.”
To give back to the community that has supported them from the very beginning, the Stoltzes have used their talents to support good causes. In February, the couple decided to hold an online auction for floral centerpieces Janessa had created to help market her online shop and raised $1,400 for the WIRES Wildlife Rescue to help care for wildlife devastated by wildfires in Australia.
After that, the couple set their fundraising sights on Camas.
“The Australia donation felt really good, but we started thinking, ‘What can we do right here in our community?’” Janessa said.
When the Camas Educational Foundation (CEF), which funds extra educational programs for Camas’ K-12 students, asked the business owners if they would donate a $100 gift certificate for the CEF’s annual fundraising gala and auction, the Stoltzes said “yes” and then pitched an even greater donation: free flowers to decorate the entire 300-person gala event.
“We’re a wedding florist too, so the chance to flower up an entire evening … especially for a really good organization. It was a chance to meet people in the community and show people what we do,” Janessa said.
Days before the March 14 event, however, the CEF posted a notice that they were postponing the gala due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had flowers for 300 in our garage, so we thought, ‘Let’s make it count,’” Janessa said. “It just felt right to stay the course and help the CEF.”
The first online auction had been a success, so Janessa brought the idea to her Acorn & the Oak Facebook page.
“People were having fun with it,” Janessa said of the impromptu floral arrangement auction. “They all knew each other and they were having a good time trying to outbid each other. It was just a good way to use that product.”
In the end, the auction raised about $3,500. The Stoltzes decided to donate half to the CEF, to help the group recoup the costs from postponing its biggest annual fundraiser, and half to the Clark County Food Bank to help vulnerable community members during the pandemic.
To help brighten people’s spirits around town during the pandemic, the Stoltzes have created surprise flower installations at strategic spots like the pedestrian bridge near the conflux of Lacamas and Round lakes and in front of the Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas.
The past few weeks, however, have been focused on getting their business — if not fully up and running yet — at least off the ground. They hope to soon offer a limited takeout menu and possibly a floral centerpiece to accompany the “Sunday supper” meal.
“This will be a very indulgent thing, something you’d have once a week,” Janessa said of the limited takeout menu. “It won’t be everyday items. More comfort food: pot roast, fried chicken maybe, with different options for sides.”
The couple hired chef David Haight in late March, and have been working on cocktail creations, planning a vegetable and herb garden, building a menu based on what they call “an old-school, Midwest supper club” theme, and concentrating on the last-minute details they hope will turn Acorn & the Oak into a favorite Camas destination.
“We have the luxury of time to make sure it’s beautiful,” Janessa said.
Chuck said he’s perfecting cocktails for the Acorn & the Oak and looking forward to having customers be able to sit on the patio and try some of his concoctions, such as the Spring Forward, a gin-based drink with notes of lemon and honey.
Although the couple didn’t qualify for any of the business incentives and financial packages being offered through the federal, state and local governments to help small businesses survive the shutdown, Janessa said she and Chuck are feeling OK about their current situation.
“We were already in this kind of holding pattern, so a lot of our life didn’t change too much,” Janessa said. “Chef David has plenty to do, so he’s been working full-time getting relationships with food purveyors set up. A lot of our stuff has been able to continue.”
Even if they did qualify for financial help, Janessa said the couple would feel bad about taking resources away from their peers in the restaurant and floral industries who are truly hurting right now.
“We’re just trying to be smart about how we’re spending right now,” Janessa said. “But we’re doing well. Trying to stay motivated. Trying to stay patient.”
Want to find out more about Acorn & the Oak? Visit the business on Facebook (@acornandtheoak), Instagram (acorn_andtheoak) or at acornandtheaok.com. The business is located at 3533 N.E. Everett St., in Camas.