Peace, love and grub

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By Terri Gleich, for the West Sound Guide to Dining

Sean Pickard believes good grub is messy.

So don’t be surprised when you need a fistful of napkins to go with your burger and fries at The Grub Hut.

“I use all-natural, grass-fed beef…grilled. I like a nice crispy crust on it. And I’m not afraid of grease. I don’t think you need to cook it all off. Fat is flavor,” said Pickard, who opened his family-friendly Kingston restaurant in 2009.

There are 16 burgers on the menu. All are heaped with toppings sure to leave juice dripping down your chin. Besides a variety of cheeses, there’s bacon, pineapple, fried onion straws, pico de gallo, avocado, spinach, chili and teriyaki.

The Grub Hut also features 31 flavors of milkshakes, other hearty sandwiches and such healthy choices as salads, soups and a homemade veggie burger. The full list is at peaceloveandgrub.com.

Pickard, who started in the restaurant business at age 17 as a dishwasher, formerly owned the Coastal Café in Kingston, a coffee and sandwich shop in the Albertson’s shopping center. He originally dreamed of opening The Beer and Grub Hut, but dropped the beer after recognizing the need for a local restaurant that didn’t serve liquor.

“That family-friendly niche has totally worked for us,” he said. “This has been an awesome experience. It really has changed our lives. We feel that we’re a valuable part of the community.”

Still, it wasn’t easy starting a business during the depths of the recession. The financial crisis struck close to home for Pickard when Chase bought Washington Mutual and cancelled his line of credit two weeks after he signed the lease for The Grub Hut’s prime Highway 104 location.

Pickard retooled his business plan and was able to secure financing from another bank. He cut costs by finding used equipment on-line and, in one case, outside a Port Orchard restaurant.

“We literally found those booths by the side of the road,” Pickard said, pointing to wooden bench seats that he refurbished with paint and reupholstered cushions.

The tables, grill, sink and exhaust hood all have a history. “Our whole budget from start to finish was $90,000,” he said, adding that it should have cost about $150,000.

It took him five months to open, using friends and relatives to help with plumbing, carpentry and engineering. Their generosity is recognized on the restaurant’s menu. “If a sandwich has a (person’s) name, those are people we’re saying thanks to because we couldn’t have opened without them,” said Pickard.

Marko Viloria, who built the counter and other essentials, laughs about his namesake burger, the Uncle MacGyver. It features a tangy mix of cheddar cheese, barbecue sauce, pico de gallo and garlic mayo topped with bacon and lettuce.

“I like to build things,” Viloria said. “It was a lot of fun. I could do a little bit of everything.”

The hard work by Pickard and his friends paid off. There was a line out the door the first few weeks The Grub Hut was open. “When word got out, everybody had to come try it out,” he said.

His business has remained steady and primarily local ever since, although he fills up with weekend ferry traffic during the summer.

The Grub Hut’s atmosphere is bright and tropical, with a grass roof over the counter and carved tiki faces throughout. Pickard said it was his wife Tiziana’s idea. “When it gets dark at 4:30 here, you can come in and it’s light and colorful and fun,” he said.

Pickard’s personality also lights up the place. It’s clear he loves what he’s doing.

“I eat, sleep and breathe The Grub Hut,” he said, noting that the restaurant is closed only on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

Six of his seven staff members have been with him since the beginning and he considers them family. He encourages them to give input on menu items and hiring, and he shares hard-earned life lessons with them.

“Part of my philosophy is to put people first and the money will be there,” he said. “A lot of the time young kids don’t think that way. I feel like I’m not only teaching them about business but that I’m teaching them a thing or two about the world.”

That family spirit is part of the draw for customers like Kelly Dobson, a Silverdale preschool teacher. “I love this place. It’s my favorite. You come in and it’s a homey environment.”

Michael Jenkins of Poulsbo is also a regular. “It’s the best burger in Kingston, Silverdale or Poulsbo,” he said. “It’s the time and effort they put into the burgers. They don’t try to rush them out.”

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