Celebrating its 40th year in business, the Boat Shed Restaurant at the base of the Manette Bridge is fast becoming the latest destination eatery for locals and Seattleites alike. From the humble beginnings as a longtime bait shop discovered in the late 1970s until the present day, this location has always focused on serving the needs of its customers and community by listening to their requests.
One day in 1979, Brett Hayfield was driving over the Manette Bridge, looked down and saw the tiny building sitting at the water’s edge. He discovered the community bait shop where locals gathered to grab a sandwich, buy some gas, get fresh bait and share fish stories.
Hayfield and his first wife, Beverly, bought the property and expanded the menu to include beer and wine. As the site became more and more popular, they moved the deck to the waterside and expanded the kitchen in order to meet the demands of the increasing numbers of customers.
Life brings changes and eventually the couple divorced. Beverly has no active part in running the Boat Shed but still holds ownership shares in the property. Hayfield’s present wife, Kathy Davis-Hayfield, credits Beverly with the hard work it took to build the foundation of the business, enabling it to become the success it is today. The two women are good friends as well as business partners.
Davis-Hayfield maintains an active role in the present day-to-day management of the restaurant. She laughed as she said, “I’m part owner but also known as the plant lady, coach and trainer; I help with hiring of staff; and I keep everyone on track, upbeat and positive.”
This is no small job, as there are between 60 and 100 employees depending on the season. The restaurant seats 195 people inside and 225 outside, so taking care of that many people all at once can be a big challenge. It takes a team working together as a well-oiled machine to efficiently run a successful restaurant.
Executive chef Jordan Sexton also serves as the kitchen manager, helping in the development of menus, supervising staff and monitoring costs. Hayfield is part owner and serves as chief financial officer and resident jokester. He jumps behind the bar and bartends when they are busy, and both he and Davis-Hayfield are always willing to buss tables or take on any other task to support their staff when needed.
When Hayfield developed the Boat Shed into a serious, full-service restaurant, he hired Davis-Hayfield’s brother, who had been working at Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard as the executive chef. Her brother, in turn, recruited her to help run the dining room and other management duties.
Davis-Hayfield has a long history in restaurant management, even though her academic background is in music and the arts. She worked at the Boat Shed in the early days, then for years managed the Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, and now has come home to the Boat Shed once more.
The Boat Shed prides itself on being family friendly, both as a place for families to enjoy dining and other activities, and as an employment opportunity.
“We have extreme longevity of staff, with little turnover, and actually have the kids of longtime former employees working for us now,” Davis-Hayfield said. “We give them opportunities for first jobs, such as bussing tables or washing dishes, and they can learn the restaurant business from the ground up.”
The Hayfields, due to their appreciation of the local community, encourage their employees to volunteer in a variety of ways to give back to those who support the restaurant. Davis-Hayfield sets an example by serving as a mentor at the local high school, and is a member of the Manette Business Association. She began “Music in the Nette” about eight years ago. The family-friendly program, hosted at H.O. Whitey Domstad Park, features a wide variety of musical programs, from jazz to kids’ songs, on Thursday evenings June through August.
The location of the Boat Shed puts the restaurant smack in the middle of much that goes on in Manette. And being in the middle of community events is just the way the Hayfields like it. They close the restaurant for the 4th of July fireworks that are launched off the Manette Bridge, and sell tickets for people who would like to enjoy the celebration from their deck.
ManetteFest takes place in early September, and when 11th Street is closed to traffic, the Boat Shed donates its upper parking lot for use during the event. During the First Friday Art Walk, which takes place 6-8 p.m. at various shops throughout the community, the Boat Shed serves as a spot for early walkers to stop in for Happy Hour or for later visitors to drop in for dinner.
A large and varied menu offers something for everyone. The starter menu includes several seafood items and there is a Beachcomber menu that features seafood dishes exclusively. The dinner menu lists salads for every palate, entrees and dinners from land and sea, pasta and burgers.
Happy Hour specials are discounted $3 from the regular appetizer menu and are available 2-6 p.m. daily. Saturday features “Yappy Hour,” when friendly pups are invited onto the deck with their owners for a chance to socialize with their own furry friends and receive dog biscuits for good behavior. The adult human companions can enjoy original cocktails such as a Dalmatian Delight or another favorite cocktail that has a silly canine name for the occasion.
There are daily chef’s specials and menus for special occasions such as Mother’s Day, Easter and other holidays. Music is offered on the deck during the summer, and Davis-Hayfield says it is the best place on the peninsula to watch a sunset.
Boats can tie up on the restaurant dock, making it a special summer place, with warm evenings due to the western exposure. The Boat Shed is an easy 20-minute stroll from the Bremerton foot ferry, enabling those from Seattle to come for dinner without the necessity of bringing a car.
Upscale enough for an anniversary or Valentine’s romantic dinner, the Boat Shed is also casual enough for a weeknight family supper. It serves as a friendly and jovial spot for locals to gather for a drink, ladies’ weekday lunches and business meetings. The Hayfields strive to embrace the regulars who come from their local community and welcome strangers from far and near. They never forget it is their customers who make a good restaurant thrive.
When asked about the response to reviews on social media such as Yelp and Trip Advisor, Davis-Hayfield said, “I don’t spend any time reading those. While we appreciate the compliments and the good reviews, we would rather address the complaints of the unhappy customers while they are in their seat, when we can listen and find out how to solve the problem.”
It should be noted that the restaurant received TripAdvisor’s Award of Excellence in 2017-2019, and is rated No. 2 of 155 restaurants in the area by that website. The Boat Shed is also voted the 2019 Best Seafood Restaurant by the readers of WestSound Magazine magazine.
Reservations are recommended for dinner on weekends, whenever celebrating a special occasion, for large groups and any time when customers may wish to dine on the deck during peak mealtimes in good weather.