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Upping al fresco: Lakeside Camas restaurant could take outdoor dining to new level

Their plans to build a covered patio stymied by the city, the owners of Acorn & the Oak set sights on rooftop dining

Chuck Stoltz shakes cocktails at his Camas business, Acorn & the Oak, on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.

Janessa Stoltz, co-owner of Acorn & the Oak, arranges flowers in the Camas-based flower shop and Midwest supper club-inspired restaurant on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (Photos by Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

Chuck Stoltz, co-owner of Acorn & the Oak, walks into the restaurant-flower shop on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. Stoltz and his wife, Janessa Stoltz (not pictured) hope to build a partially covered outdoor dining area on the roof of their Camas business.

Chuck and Janessa Stoltz, the owners of Camas’ unique, Lacamas Lake-adjacent Acorn & the Oak restaurant, had already weathered more than their fair share of hurdles when the city’s planning manager emailed another piece of bad news earlier this month: the city could not approve the couple’s plans to build a permanent cover over their back patio.

The Stoltzes had been excited by the idea of being able to keep their diners warm and cozy no matter the season – and had already talked at length with city staff about the idea and spent money on an engineer and architect to come up with a covered patio design that would offer Lacamas Lake views and be a natural addition to the eclectic, flower-filled Acorn & the Oak.

“The (city) let us go a couple months and we got so excited,” Janessa Stoltz said. “We spent thousands on the plans, so it’s frustrating to get to that point.”

Camas Planning Manager Robert Maul told the couple their “proposed patio cover, while very tastefully designed, is essentially a building addition and not temporary in nature and also triggers several building and land-use permits.”

The Stoltzes were, by this point, used to setbacks. The couple had purchased the former Lakeside Chalet building, at 3533 N.E. Everett St., in February 2019, and jumped through permitting hoops for months before beginning a major revamp of the building’s interior. By March 2020, the couple had transformed the business into a lush, flower-filled, Midwest supper club-inspired retreat along Camas’ Lacamas Lake. And then the pandemic hit.

The Stoltzes rolled with the punches – serving what Janessa called “the prettiest and most delicious takeout in town” during the height of the pandemic shutdowns in 2020; renting expensive tents to provide outdoor dining in 2020 and 2021; strictly enforcing mask mandates when they could finally open in-person dining; throwing up their lakeview windows during the nice-weather months to bring more fresh air into the restaurant; and simply, as the couple wrote on their business’ website, “thriving in a COVID world with a skeleton crew of dedicated and talented humans making magic despite the chaos.”

Their hard work paid off. The Acorn & the Oak has gained a loyal customer base and regularly attracts visitors from out of town – and from across the country.

“We have a ton of regulars, which is really cool, but we get a lot of new people, too,” Janessa Stoltz said. “We even have regulars from across the river, from Portland and Gresham.”

And while many customers feel comfortable eating inside during the pandemic, the Stoltzes said they know they have loyal patrons who will not eat inside but might feel safe dining outdoors. Being able to offer a covered back patio – one that would have had plenty of fresh air but still provided a shelter during the rainy season and warmth on chilly nights – would have been a perfect addition to the Acorn & the Oak, Janessa Stoltz said.

“It would have been beautiful,” she said. “We’ve had tents, but they’re so bad in the snow and the Gorge winds we get are tough on the tents.”

Plus, Chuck Stoltz added, nobody really loves to dine inside a tent.

“Nobody would sit in it,” he said of the rented outdoor tents. “This year, we did a three-month rental and paid about $11,000 for propane (heaters) and we might get one person a night out there. Unless it’s mandated, nobody wants to be in the tent.”

The Lakeside Chalet – the restaurant that operated in the same spot as the Acorn & the Oak for several decades before closing in February 2019 – offered outdoor dining on a back patio the business’ owners had leased from the city of Camas.

When the Stoltzes purchased the property in 2019, they understood they would need to re-negotiate a lease for the lakeside patio. Later, the couple would discover they owned less of the patio than they’d realized – and that nearly 90 percent was actually part of an easement with the city that the previous owners had paid around $100 a year to use. The Stoltzes knew they would likely have to pay the city a higher fee to use the patio space, but didn’t realize until earlier this month, after Maul emailed them, that the patio also is within the city’s shoreline jurisdiction, which has very limited uses.

To build a permanent covered patio, Maul told the restaurant owners, they would need to apply for a conditional-use permit and go through an extensive process that would ultimately go before the Washington Department of Ecology.

“In my experience, I believe that this type of project may run into some resistance from the state,” Maul told the Stoltzes in an email. “In order to even apply for the permit you would need city authorization, and we don’t see that as an option here.”

After hearing the city’s disappointing news, Janessa Stoltz posted her frustration on the business’ Facebook page and thanked loyal Acorn & the Oak fans for their continued support.

“What a rough start to a new year,” Janessa wrote in the Facebook post. “Honestly, sometimes we wonder how many more hits we can take, and whether it’s worth it. I don’t mean financially (we’ve been so careful there) but emotionally. It’s so hard when you consistently approach challenges with positive energy, boundless creativity and hard-thought strategy, only to be thwarted again and again.”

Still, Janessa wrote in the Facebook post, she and her husband had decided to count their blessings in 2022.

“Where we are poor in support from the City, we are rich in support from the community,” she wrote. “And when we feel beaten down by the external forces that make this place so hard to run, we are buoyed by our incredible team that keeps daily operations going, allowing Chuck and I to go off and fight bigger battles.”

Indeed, the Stoltzes have now decided to approach their outdoor seating problem from a new angle – one a bit higher in the sky.

“We had the contractor come back and we would like to do a rooftop patio,” Janessa Stoltz told The Post-Record last week. “We are hoping the city will work with us on that. It’s 100-percent on our property.”

The Acorn & the Oak building is L-shaped, with the restaurant and flower shop taking up the entire first-floor footprint. The Stoltzes’ live in an apartment space over half of the building and hope to build a covered outdoor rooftop patio on top of the one-story portion of the building.

“The patio wouldn’t be as tall as our building, so I don’t think we would have issues there,” Janessa Stoltz said. The only issue might be the staircase.”

The couple said they’re a little nervous about approaching the city after having their covered patio idea plans shot down, but are still dreaming of a partially covered rooftop patio in full bloom, where customers who want to enjoy the Acorn & the Oak’s craft cocktails and Midwest supper club-inspired menu outdoors can do so in comfort nearly year-round.

“We’re definitely going to pursue it,” Janessa Stoltz said. “But we’re nervous about it because our last interaction with the city was not a very good one.”

The Stoltzes still have hope that 2022 will be an easier year for their fledgling business..As Janessa Stoltz wrote in her Facebook post, which garnered dozens of positive responses from fans of Acorn & the Oak: “We trust that everything will turn out in the end.”

To learn more about Acorn & the Oak, visit acornandtheoak.com or check out the business’ social media sites on Facebook (@acornandtheoak) and Instagram.