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Whistlin' Jack's Outpost & Lodge

Real estate deal turned family adventure

Whistlin' Jack's was built in 1931. Original owners Charlie and Mildred Rogers had four cabins and a lodge. Helen and Bill Williams purchased the property in 1957. Their son Doug and his wife Kristine ran it for over 40 years. They had a restaurant, general store, eight motel rooms, eight guest cottages, and outdoor event space.

Photo courtesy of Whistlin' Jack's

Located on the Naches River, the property is a little bit of heaven in the woods just outside Mount Rainier National Park. Stop for gas, buy an ice cream or sandwich in the outpost, or spend the night.

Russ Roberts and Dan Birk own a real estate business together; Russ was the listing agent for the property. He talked to Dan about getting an investment group together and buying it themselves. Randy Kessler, Brad Chandler, and Josh Johnson joined them. The group purchased the property in December 2019 and closed it two months later due to the pandemic.

"We planned to buy it and rent to an operator. We bought it 'as is' and knew there was a lot of deferred maintenance," notes Dan. "Eventually we decided to be operators. In our group, there are real estate people, a lodging person, and an HVAC/electrical person, so we combined our skills. We contracted Bailey Hempstead with Voyage Consulting LLC in November 2020 to manage it. She's from Selah and has a great background; the last resort she managed was in Hawaii. She helped us see how it can operate all year: mushroom foraging, hunting, Jeeping, snowmobiling." After closing in February and March for COVID, they thought the worst was behind them. Then the fires hit.

Photo courtesy of Whistlin' Jack's

However, it gave them time to take care of all that deferred maintenance. "So much of what we've done no one will ever see," explains Dan. "People will see new window coverings; towels; mattresses; flooring in the cabins; mini-fridges, microwaves, and coffee machines in the rooms. There's a large hot tub at one end of the lodge, and four of the six cabins have tubs; those are all new. The bungalow has two tubs. We rebuilt porches around the tubs. Everything is up to code: electrical, plumbing, HVAC, the restaurant kitchen, the industrial washer and dryer we added, and the 10-cooler keg that gives us eight more taps."

They built a barbecue near the river; added 13 RV spots all with power, water, and sewer; seven campsites on the river; and brought in fiber optics so Wi-Fi is available throughout the property. "You can't normally find Wi-Fi in the deep woods, and we do charge for it. We've stayed with our "no TVs in the rooms" decision. We also rent portable propane fire pits since open flames are often unsafe." All cabins have gas fireplaces except two, one with a rustic wood burning fireplace.

The owners put a lot of work into the property. "While the kids were doing school on Zoom, we could be here," says Francine, Dan's wife, who is a trained pastry chef. "This became a family project. Our 19-year-old daughter Alex has been doing our social media and taken the photos. Brad's son Clayton has worked here, and Amy Roberts and their son Eli put the store together."

Chef Calvin Elliott

Their chef, Calvin Elliott, has a history at Whistlin' Jack's. His great uncle Art Danner was the head cook for a number of years. His grandmother cooked on Alaska fishing boats. Calvin's first job was at camp when 17; at 18, he washed dishes at Apple Tree Golf Course, working his way to cook. He left to try new things, including farming, moving to Montana in 2013 and started barbecuing as a hobby. Deciding at 26 that cooking was it, he worked at The Pollard Hotel in Red Lodge, Northern Hotel in Billings, and the Blue Rooster Café.

Moving home, he stopped in at Apple Tree to say hello. The next day he was back at work. "I stayed two years. I always wanted a head chef job. A friend called and said Whistlin' Jack's was looking for a chef. I met Bailey and started work in January 2021. It's been difficult opening and closing due to disasters, but we're getting our flow together. I've always believed that food is only as good as the ingredients; we strive to get the best. I was given the creative freedom to do what I wanted and would try things as specials. If they worked, they became part of the menu, like the phyllo-wrapped stuffed salmon and pan-seared Dijon Parmesan lamb. We'll start specials again as we get staffed up. Until then, I can't do everything from scratch as I'd like. In the future, I'd love to do our own grass-fed beef patties and maybe bake breads in a space we could convert to a bakery. I love teaching people, so I look forward to training and being creative."

Scallops and mushrooms, courtesy of Whistlin' Jack's

"In the future," says Dan, "we'd like to team up with breweries and wineries and use the space downstairs for events. It can accommodate up to 50 people and has access to the lower patio. We'd like to bring back Mother's Day brunch, holiday meals, live music, and be part of Chinook Fest."

The next two big projects will be to put new metal roofs on all buildings and add a new generator to ensure local backup power. "It's unlikely there will be any new structures in the future because it's very difficult to get permits," says Dan. The great thing about all the work they've done is that it still feels like Whistlin' Jack's. "The vibe won't change," says Francine. "When you're here and the barbecue is outside, people are camping, and kids are running around, it feels like the '50s."

Whistlin' Jack's is a wonderful place throughout the seasons. In the winter, it's gorgeous with snow; romantic and cozy. In summer, it's great for hiking and summer reads. It's perfect for family reunions. Whether you love to hunt, fish, hike, motorcycle, bicycle, or just sit and enjoy nature, this should be one of your go-to spots.

Connie Adams/October 2021

Whistlin' Jack's Outpost & Lodge
20800 WA-410
Naches, WA 98937

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