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ShrimpFest 2020


Dan Thiessen


Small town boy from a cattle ranch owning family, trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York, worked three years at restaurants in Switzerland, taught at the Seattle Art Institute, chef'd at SkyCity at the Needle, Golf Club at Newcastle, Chandler's, Salty's Seafood Grills, and his own 0/8 & Twisted Cork in Bellevue. And then back to educating as director of the Wine Country Institute at Walla Walla Community College (WWCC). Whew.

Dan during 0/8 & Twisted Cork days

He only gets busier. True that after seven years, he's no longer at WWCC, but he is now the owner of the Thiessen cattle ranch (his dad still lives on the property), he and his wife have purchased a 37-acre farm, designed and built a farmhouse, raises numerous animals, and manages the acreage, including 8-1/2 acres of grape vines. They have three sons, 11, 23 months and 3 months. Did we mention he's also one of four founding partners of the Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing in Walla Walla? And that he's the managing partner onsite? He's there a lot. "It's either a great trait or character defect, depending on who you talk to and on what day, but my foot is always on the gas pedal, pushing and driving, thinking about how to improve things," laughs Dan. Melissa, his wife, grew up in Walla Walla, and was the Director of Marketing at WWCC, but left to work at the Catholic School District. "They wanted outside eyes on how to recruit, retain, and market at the school. She gets to take Otto, our three-month-old, to work with her. We share a nanney with another family and she takes care of the kids at our house."

His great grandfather arrived from Germany in the late 1880s, and homesteaded outside Lewiston, Idaho. The Thiessens' "Wagon Wrench" cattle brand came with him and his sons took over. In 1972, Dan's dad bought the Thiessen Ranch in Asotin, Washington. As his father's only child, it is now in Dan's hands as his father closes in on retirement. "When we built our house in Walla Walla, we included a guest suite at one end. It's ready when my dad wants to move in." They also had a winter range/mountain property that they sold in the early 2000s. Dan has plans for both Thiessen Ranch and Wagon Wrench Farms, one of which is to create a line of retail products from the farm. Ver jus from the vineyard, ver jus-pickled beets and bread & butter pickles, all geared to be wine-friendly. "I haven't decided if we want to do a Wagon Wrench or Walla Walla Steak Co. label; so much is tied together."

Dan and lamb

Dan and Melissa saw the farm property in January 2015 and put an offer down in February. Although it hadn't closed, they got married on the site. He used recycled railroad ties with "Thiessen" emblazoned on it as their alter. It's now on the farm as well. And because Dan has so much time on his hands, he used 130-year-old barn wood to build their dining room table, designed and made the two large light fixtures, one over the table and one just inside the front door, and made the sliding barn doors for all their closets in the house. They're also contemplating a winery and tasting room on their property. Despite all that's going on, it's a peaceful place; you can picture a wedding, anniversary or other event overlooking the rolling hills.

Tyler Cox, a teacher at WWCC, has a cattle genetics project in process, summering his cattle on their pasture ground. The farm used to belong to Mike Locati, best known for sweet onions and asparagus as well as Locati Cellars, hence the vineyards (6-1/2 acres of Sangiovese and 2 acres of Barbera). The vineyards are managed by Bella Fortuna and wines made by Jason Fox. "We also sell grapes and have a Fire & Vine Hospitality rosé project happening. I think we're sold out now. We only made 125 cases; we're thinking about doubling that next year."

Tyler Cox cattle with Thiessen farmhouse in background

There's no doubt we'll be hearing more from Dan, Wagon Wrench Farms projects, Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing. Can't picture that foot coming off the gas pedal any time soon.

Connie Adams/July 2019

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