Skylark’s Hidden Cafe is a local favorite and staple of the Fairhaven community just outside of Bellingham, Washington. Located in a historic brick building, Skylark’s enchants customers with its Victorian decor, homey atmosphere, and delicious classic meals.
Of course, Skylark’s hasn’t been immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When indoor dining was banned in March of 2020, the restaurant closed completely for two days to decide how to move forward. They reopened with curbside pickup orders alone, and while a loyal and supportive community of regulars built over 26 years helped keep the business going, sales were still down.
Things looked up in June, when restaurants were able to reopen with limited indoor dining and outdoor seating. Luckily, Skylark’s owner Brad Haggen had just had an outdoor patio built the year before, and being able to open that up for seating really helped.
Still, they were running about 33% down in sales from the previous year, according to Brad.
Brad knew that he’d need to get an outdoor dining structure to make the patio more comfortable in order to keep sales up during the fall and winter, and that need was solidified when indoor dining was banned once more in November.
Brad looked into renting an outdoor dining structure for his patio, but the options were fairly expensive and didn’t make sense for long-term use. Then another business in town told him to look into WeatherPort.
“I liked the look of them — they looked pretty substantial,” Brad explained.
He decided to move forward with the WeatherPort Jubilee Series and worked with a WeatherPort building specialist to determine how large of a structure he could fit on Skylark’s patio.
Together, they designed a structure with fixed windows on one end and roll-up windows on the side to let in lots of natural light. Brad appreciated that he could add sides to the structure after the pandemic in order to create a closed, more energy-efficient space.
About three weeks after the order was placed, Skylark’s new outdoor restaurant tent was delivered — just in time to be set up and opened to the public for New Year’s Eve.
As Brad explained, “The tent opened in January and immediately we got on the cover of the Bellingham Herald. It’s been popular ever since.”
“Everybody’s really impressed with the tent,” he says, and people tell him that they’ve never seen such a nice restaurant tent before.
In fact, even though indoor dining went up to 50% recently, people still prefer to sit outside.
“There’s not a lot of outdoor seating in the Fairhaven business community, so it’s become pretty popular for people to want to eat outside,” Brad explained.
The popularity of their covered outdoor seating area has meant that, even with indoor dining at half capacity, their sales are currently running about even with 2019 numbers.
“I figured that if I can do another $500 in sales every day, the structure will pay for itself in six months. And it ended up paying for itself in the first six weeks.”
Brad is also happy with the durability of the structure, which has already had to endure high winds and a foot of snow, but “hasn’t budged at all.”
“It’s been rock solid,” Brad added.
Looking forward to this summer, Brad hopes to move the structure to a grassy field nearby to open a beer and wine garden. He plans to leave it up year-round moving forward, moving it back and forth to create a heated covered seating area on the patio in the winter and an open bar area in the field in the summer.