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CLE ELUM — Greg Apt hadn’t necessarily planned on opening a restaurant in Cle Elum.

Then the Bellevue real estate agent, who grew up on a family-owned orchard in the Wenatchee Valley, unexpectedly fell in love.

It was the spring of 2016. Apt, who regularly visited Upper Kittitas County for four-wheeling and hiking, found himself sitting in his Jeep outside a vacant building on Cle Elum’s main drag.

Home to a pool hall in its early days and later to the Longhorn Pub, the building most recently housed Sahara’s Pizza. It was a place where its better days were fast becoming only faded memories.

But Apt, thinking about opening a restaurant, saw promise.

“I came inside and fell in love with the building,” he said. He asked his youngest son, Stephen, to take a look.

Stephen, who initially only planned to help his father get the kitchen established, was unimpressed. “It was way out of left field,” he says. “I told him not to buy it. It was a gut job.”

His advice went unheeded. Apt and a friend offered $250,000 for the property but the owner turned it down. Apt says a few months later he circled back again and offered the same price but with a bigger down payment and the deal came together.

Apt set about renovating the building.

“I completely gutted it,” he says. “It’s got new plumbing, new electrical. It’s got another hundred years in it.”

But the cost of the renovation soon exhausted his resources. He’d sold his home in Bellevue anticipating that the $390,000 equity would cover the renovation. “I wasn’t even close,” he says now.

Plans to open the Orchard, a farm-to-table fine dining restaurant, last spring went on hold when he ran out of money. Apt applied to 20 banks. “None would give me a loan,” he says.

Enter a mortgage broker who helped Apt pull financing together and get the project moving again.

A historic feel, modern cuisine

Apt figures he spent about $650,000 on the building, not counting the cost of buying it. The result is a space that features what Apt calls a “rustic industrial” feel with subdued lighting, a large gas fireplace along one wall, leather couches in gathering areas, and an intimate bar and dining area.

Wood and brick reclaimed during the renovation has been used in the interior. Historical photos, fruit boxes, lighting and antique artifacts are designed to lend a historical feel.

The restaurant’s open concept kitchen allows diners to view their meals being prepared.

Billed on the restaurant’s website as “the local living room serving flawless food and drink,” the Orchard, at 212 E. First St., had a soft opening in November and currently operates Wednesday through Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.

“The reception has been awesome,” Apt says. “People love it. Right now the focus is on dinner. We may eventually expand to lunch and brunch.”

A family affair

When he decided to open a restaurant, Apt initially envisioned a high quality sports bar.

Stephen, who pushed for a fine-dining, farm-to-table enterprise with a focus on fresh produce and meat from local producers, is now the chef.

“Everything is made fresh every day,” says Stephen, who followed his older brother Nick, a chef in Seattle, into the restaurant business and honed his skills learning from others along the way. Nick’s career has included time working under chef Nathan Lockwood at Altura, a fine dining restaurant named Seattle Restaurant of the year in 2012 by Seattle Magazine. Stephen also spent time working there.

“I’ve learned by experience, basically starting at the bottom and work my way up,” says Stephen who has done stints at numerous restaurants.

As chef at the Orchard, he’s focusing on a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients and an inventive approach. Menu offerings, which change often, have included wagyu with chanterelles, parsnips and celery root, gnocchi with lamb and goat ragu, lamb baked in hay with polenta and braised greens, rabbit with parsnips, radishes and bacon and smoked apple pie with caramel cream, among other offerings.

But don’t expect fast food or hash browns served up in diner-size portions. At the Orchard, the focus is on quality — not quantity — and a dining experience to be remembered, Apt says.

On a recent Wednesday, predictably a slow night, the Orchard opened with just one reservation but had served 35 customers by the time the evening was over and Apt was clearly pleased.

“We have very high service standards,” he says. “That’s one thing we have been adamant about since we started.”

For information or reservations, go to Orchard-restaurant.com or call 509-852-2900.

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