Kitsap County Courthouse losing its bite

Chris Kelly, an employee of the Honey in the Rock Cafe in the basement of the Kitsap County Courthouse, will be tending to business elsewhere soon. The county has terminated the restaurant’s lease, forcing it to close in November.  - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
Chris Kelly, an employee of the Honey in the Rock Cafe in the basement of the Kitsap County Courthouse, will be tending to business elsewhere soon. The county has terminated the restaurant’s lease, forcing it to close in November.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

Visitors to the Kitsap County Courthouse in Port Orchard will have a less-hospitable experience this fall, when on-site food service will cease.

The Honey in the Rock Cafe has operated out of the basement of the old courthouse for about six years, catering to employees as well as visitors who for one reason or another find themselves doing county business at lunchtime.

The cafe, which serves a combination of homemade burgers, salads and sandwiches, is especially appreciated by the jury pool, which is given limited time for lunch.

Cafe owner Diane Kelly just signed another five-year lease with the county and brought the health requirements up to date. This agreement was superseded by the 60-day termination clause, which either party can invoke.

In mid-September Kelly received the termination notice in writing from Kitsap County Administrator Nancy Buonanno Grennan. Kelly immediately posted signs notifying customers of the action.

“Most of the county employees didn’t know about this,” Kelly said. “And some of them are pretty upset.” 

Kelly runs a steak restaurant in Port Orchard, also called Honey in the Rock, along with the espresso stand in the administration building (an arrangement that is not affected by the restaurant’s closure).

Throughout its existence the cafe has operated on borrowed time. After the construction of the new Kitsap County Administration Building in 2006, the basement has been occupied by the cafe and the data storage center.

Since these two functions are not compatible, the county has decided that it will be easier to find a new restaurant location than to move the huge computers that manage the county’s data infrastructure.

Grennan said the building’s age and structure make renovation difficult. It would cost several million dollars, for example, to retrofit the building with a sprinkler system that would be required in order to meet safety standards.

Information Services personnel have long favored closing the lower floor to the public, citing data security needs. There is also a concern about the kitchen becoming a fire hazard.

Kelly said she hoped the county could find somewhere to install the small kitchen necessary to prepare the food (there is no actual cooking involved, the stoves and appliances are used to heat food that has already been prepared).

Grennan was not optimistic about installing a kitchen elsewhere in the courthouse building, since it would be subject to the same safety restrictions as the current location.

She said that it was possible the Bullard Building, which now houses the Civil Division of the Prosecutor’s Office, could be converted to a restaurant, but this would not happen for several years.

Kitsap County Clerk Dave Peterson said the restaurant’s location in the courthouse made it easy for the county to supply meals to impaneled juries. This process, he said, will become more difficult as it becomes necessary to arrange for pickup and delivery from downtown Port Orchard locations.

“We can order out,” Peterson said, “but it will be difficult for anyone who finds themselves at the courthouse during lunchtime unexpectedly.”

Another factor has to do with parking. If visitors drive downtown for lunch, they may have difficulty finding a space when they return.

The food situation is one county issue that is not directly related to the budget, although there are some monetary implications. If the county is forced to go downtown for meals it will probably cost more. And the revenue received from the restaurant (Kelly gives the county a portion of her profits in lieu of rent) will cease.

The current basement location is due to close on Nov. 18. If no other arrangements are made courthouse visitors will need to find other food alternatives after that time.

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