Someone recently told me that it takes about eighteen months to determine whether a newcomer to Lopez is going to stay. As a relative newcomer to the island, I can understand that. With a population of only 2200, this tight-knit community isn’t necessarily hard to break into; but it does have a unique vibe that either is or isn’t a fit for people. The vibe at the South End of Lopez is especially unique.
Lori Honeywell passed the 18-month mark on Lopez Island a while ago. She and her husband, Scott, bought the South End General Store, formerly the Islandale Southender, at the end of 2012. I sat down with both of them this week to hear how they’ve gradually become permanent Lopezians. “It was a dance at first,” smiled Lori, as she recounted her first year on Lopez. Residents of the South End (aka “SouthEnders”) would enter the store and scrutinize any changes that had been made. The Honeywells therefore proceeded carefully as they learned the ropes of running a grocery store and later a restaurant – two things neither of them had any experience doing.
This is a recurring theme among so many Lopez residents. People leave behind long-held, successful careers to start something new here. Before moving full time to Lopez, Lori had a twenty-year career in escrow services. Scott worked at Swedish Hospital for nearly twenty-three years in dosimetry (I had to look it up). The Honeywells built a small cabin on the South End in 2005 and began coming to the island almost every weekend. What started as a Saturday-morning-to-Sunday-night stay turned into a Friday-night-to-Monday-morning stay. So in 2012, as part of their strategy to live on Lopez full-time, they bought the general store, which had been for sale for several years.
The Honeywells are the closest thing to Lopez natives that non-islanders can be. Scott started coming to Lopez in the 60s, when – during the summers – he’d camp at Odlin Park every two weeks with his parents and six siblings. He and Lori continued that tradition when they started their own family. In fact, their son Justin was only 13-days-old when he took his first camping trip to Odlin. This reminds me of another story of a great Lopez family who was inspired by their experience at Odlin Park.
Transitioning from one life to another is always difficult, as the Honeywells can attest. When they bought the general store, Lori and Scott decided that Lori would make the move first, while Scott would keep his Swedish job in Seattle. For the past two years, Scott has continued to come up to Lopez on weekends. Meanwhile, Lori has been managing the South End General Store and Restaurant – a massive job for anybody. She described the first year as being “like a hamster on a wheel” – working thirteen-hour days, seven days a week. Luckily, she had great loyal employees – like Julie, who’s been with the store for eight years – who helped the Honeywells successfully transition into grocery store and restaurant owners.
Other help came from the Honeywell’s son and daughter-in-law, JK and Mariah, who for two years ran the restaurant attached to the store. All of a sudden, Lopezians from the north part of the island were traveling all the way to the South End to eat at this great new restaurant, which quickly rose to the top of Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews. They had so much success that JK and Mariah decided to move their operation into Lopez Village, where they plan to open a new restaurant, Haven, sometime in April. In case you’re wondering whether the South End Restaurant will stay open, it certainly will. After a brief hiatus, it reopened last week, with every table full and people lining up outside the door to be seated.
Having successfully navigated a major life transition, Lori has made it past the critical 18-month mark on Lopez. Now it’s Scott’s turn. With the success and increasing popularity of the store and restaurant (not to mention the fact that his wife has missed him tremendously), Scott ended his job at Swedish to become a full-time SouthEnder last week. When I saw him Monday, I could tell he was still getting used to the idea of finally being a permanent resident. “My commute to work is now three minutes,” he said, as he sat at one of the restaurant tables next to Lori, who was visibly thrilled to have her husband back by her side full time.
The South End General Store and Restaurant has done very well over the past two years. With both Lori and Scott managing the operation together, they’ll probably have more time to devote to one of their goals – becoming “a hub for the South End.” They already host monthly wine tastings, and the restaurant’s back bar is a gathering place for SouthEnder sports fans who don’t have TVs to watch Sounders and Seahawks games. Lori would like to add other events such as movie nights and Kentucky Derby parties. The store sells quite a few local products, including Barn Owl bread, Jones Family Farms meat, Linda’s Pickles and Irene Skyriver’s vegetables, among others. It also has an entire corner devoted to local artists’ creations, and the restaurant has started serving as a rotating gallery for Lopez artists like Emily Metcalf to showcase their work.
I plan to check back in with Scott Honeywell in 18 months, but I think he’s already proved his Lopez dedication and longevity several times over. As a SouthEnder, I’m excited to see what he and Lori have cooking up the street. If you haven’t checked it out lately, you should stop by the South End General Store and Restaurant.