The Pine Cone Café aims to transport guests back to the 50s, with homestyle designs, cozy atmosphere and a home cooked turkey dinner made from scratch.
It seems that just about every University Place local knows about Pine Cone Café off 27th Street West – a location that has hosted over a hundred birthday parties, first dates that turned into marriages, and the number one place people head for to catch up on town news and enjoy homestyle cooking like soups, salads and biscuits made on the spot.
“It's like a club – you come in at a certain time, and certain people are here,” says Jimmy Steward who has come in for coffee each morning, roughly since 1970. “You just never know who you're going to run into.” Having visited the restaurant with his wife and kids, Steward now takes his grandchildren for a meal, with his favorite being Sunday's turkey dinner. “The turkey is excellent, and you get a lot of it. I eat half of it, and go away full.” The combination of great food, friendly service and affordable pricing is what has kept the restaurant going for so long, and the patrons as its loyal community.
Someone Steward runs into often is owner Steve Warp, who can be found behind the counter taking care of orders, operating the old-school cash register, or catching up with patrons. Growing up in University Place, Warp would drop in for a meal as a teenager but didn't expect to end up as the owner one day.
After studying Hotel and Restaurant Administration at Washington State University, Warp worked for a variety of restaurant companies and was all ears when the Pine Cone Café came up for sale. “I got into restaurants, and I liked this, and I heard it was up for sale, so I bought it,” he says, taking it over in 1986 after several previous owners.
The Pine Cone Café opened its doors and kitchen in the early 1950s, making it the oldest restaurant in University Place. “The exact year is a little bit in question, but it's probably 65 years now,” says Warp. After meeting the son of the original owners, who was also a bit unsure about the original opening year, they settled on 1951.
“We are what restaurants were in the old days, and we just continued that way,” says Warp. While the furnishings received an update throughout the years, the restaurant never lost its old school charm and homestyle cooking. “I've tried to keep the same theme and the same type of menu; we've just elaborated on it,” Warp says. That seems to work since many patrons have been loyal to the Pine Cone Café for more than 40 years.
After hosting birthday parties for guests turning 90, or even 100, Warp heard stories about his restaurant serving as the setting for first dates that turned into marriages and still sees patrons return for a meal although they left town long ago. As the official eatery for the 2015 U.S. Open Championship at the Chambers Bay Golf Course, the Pine Cone Café earned its local landmark status. “Not just the staff is friendly, but also the people that are here,” says Warp about his crowd of regulars, families, seniors and business clubs.
Especially in a fast-paced industry like the restaurant field, Warp believes in strong leadership and creating a fair work-life balance for his employees. “Keeping good people to cook and to serve is always a challenge,” he said. With 20 employees who have been with him for many years, Warp managed to compile a great team that provides first class customer service, and that the guests come to rely on and appreciate.
Another 60 years down the road, long after Warp retires, he hopes that the restaurant will still be operating and that a new owner will stick to the restaurant's principles of a pleasant atmosphere, friendly service, and good food. “In the 50s,60s, 70s, that is what most restaurants were like, now there is so few. I've had people say: 'This place is cool, it's retro,' but retro is modern-day trying to look old, but we're just still old,” he says.
If you are looking for quality homemade food, and a great atmosphere, drop in from Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.