Upon first entering the Tokeland Hotel, an array of comforting sights, sounds and aromas assail the senses. The smells of delicious cooking. The sounds of a fire crackling. Visions of big comfy couches, a display of homemade cakes, cookies, and such, along with sweeping views of the Willapa Bay straight ahead. They all combine to impart a sense of wellbeing and ease. Life’s daily struggles seem to melt away.
Chef Heather Earnhardt and husband Zac Young bought the historic Tokeland Hotel in 2018. Heather was born and raised in North Carolina, the granddaughter of “home cooks” on each side of her family. She grew up in their kitchen, helping out with the community-based catering business her grandparents owned. “My grandparents’ food was simply cooked and seasoned well, using local, fresh ingredients mostly from their own garden,” she shares
Heather moved to Washington State with a group of 12 school friends and ended up in Seattle in 1997. She opened a successful, well regarded and reviewed restaurant, The Wandering Goose, in 2012. But as Seattle started changing, growing more and more crowded, Heather discovered she missed her small community-based roots. During that time, she had met and married Zac, the builder who had worked on her restaurant. “I found myself not sleeping well, getting migraines, spending hours stuck in traffic,” Heather shares.
Zac’s father lives in Grayland and told them the hotel was up for sale. Opportunity knocked and the chance for a better life was embraced by the couple.
Reviving the Historic Tokeland Hotel
The hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest hotel in our state. The ground the hotel stands on was once the farmhouse of a local founding family, the Browns. The Browns homesteaded 1,400 acres, raised crops, kept livestock and traded with the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, led by Chief Toke. Lizzie Brown, their daughter, married William Kindred and the couple began building onto the original farmhouse. They opened the house to the public in 1899, originally calling it the Kindred Inn, later changing the name to the Tokeland Hotel in honor of Chief Toke.
Back then, the hotel was renowned for its wonderful, local seafood and home-grown produce. This tradition continues with the hotel’s new owners. “I make my own recipes based on what is seasonably delicious at the moment,” Shares Heather. The seafood served comes fresh from local waters, produce is harvested from the hotel’s own gardens or sourced from local producers.
Not just an expert cook, Heather is also well known for her baking. Huge, warm biscuits made with a special Southern flour, a signature creation called a Hummingbird Cake, that is as beautiful as it is delicious, and many other mouth-watering baked goods make having dessert a must when you visit Tokeland Hotel.
While Heather runs the kitchen, Zac is gradually remodeling the gracious guest rooms as the team works on making the rooms even more luxurious and remodeling the upstairs bathrooms. Other future renovations will include the installation of outdoor soaking tubs, adding outdoor showers with areas to wash off surfboards and wetsuits, and a dog washing station.
“Living here in Tokeland has changed my quality of life for the better,” Heather says. “It has forced me to slow down, to be in the moment. I look at the stars every night, the sunrise in the morning, the sunset in the evening. As much as we are working on the hotel, we can still take a moment to breathe and be grateful we found such a beautiful unique place to have a business and raise our kids.” The fresh and wonderful food that Heather and Zac have brought to the Tokeland Hotel has been a source of joy for the entire community and has improved the quality of life for all.
The hotel restaurant is open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The hotel has 18 guest rooms, with some that are pet friendly. For more information and to plan a visit, check out the Tokeland Hotel website.