Blondie’s restaurant celebrated its one-year anniversary on Dec. 17 with a live band, and search lights that swept back and forth across the night sky. Since its opening, owner Lisa Marshall has looked for creative ways to attract customers—including open mic nights, live music and other events.

But it’s been a struggle to survive, according to Marshall, who cites a long list of business problems including the relationship with her landlord, insufficient floor space, a location that can’t be seen from the Key Pen Highway, a shortage of parking along with a long-running dispute over parking with adjacent property owners, and, most important of all, a lack of customers.

“We’re still feeding this business,” Marshall says. “It’s not profitable. But, if I were to charge a cover (for events), people wouldn’t come.”

That assessment stands in stark contrast to comments made by both Marshall and landlord Douglas R. Fabre back in April of 2004, when the building was still under construction. When asked about the logic of opening another restaurant in Key Center back then, especially in light of the fact that there are two other eateries in town, Marshall said, “Say you go out to dinner twice a week… How many times do want to go to the same place? More is better.”

“That’s right,” Fabre agreed enthusiastically. “Besides, people are going too fast. They don’t have time to say ‘hi’ to their neighbors. When they walk into Blondie’s people will know their names.”

Twelve months later, the once optimistic predictions have been replaced by more realistic assessments. “This place isn’t big enough,” Marshall says. “If I had it to do over again I would make it three times bigger. I need more space in order to do the volume.”

Signage represents still another problem. Because the restaurant is well off the beaten path, and would-be customers often have difficulty finding it, Marshall would like to place signs next to Key Pen Highway, but the county has strict limitations where signs are concerned. “No one can find us….  There aren’t any street lights,” Marshall says. “Folks from Gig Harbor get lost.”

Rather than add one more burger place to the peninsula, it was Marshall’s intention to introduce a more upscale option, something on a par with Anthony’s in Gig Harbor or even the Beach House in Purdy. That’s why the dinner menu includes a number of fairly pricey offerings that could keep some potential customers away. But Marshall has an answer for that. “Some people just want to get a burger, and they can ask for the bar menu,” she points out, “and still sit in the dining room.”

So what does the future hold? Asked if she might move the restaurant to another location, Marshall says that’s a very real possibility, but not right now. Her current lease won’t expire for another four years. When asked whether her business can survive for another four years Marshall gives a lighthearted answer. “I’m paying my bills, I’m making my payroll, and I’m not a nuisance to society!”

But when pressed for a direct answer, the restaurant owner says, “Yes, I’ll make it.”

And, in order to ensure that she makes it, Marshall plans to renovate the space directly below the existing Blondie’s and start up a new bar called “Blondie’s Underground.”

“It will have pool tables, dart boards, and a dance floor,” Marshall says. “I think the downstairs operation will draw the younger crowd.”

Construction is underway and the new enterprise is slated to open in March of this year, assuming all goes well.

Meanwhile, Marshall will allow a licensed host to use Blondie’s for Texas Holdem poker tournaments on Wednesday nights starting at 6 and 8 p.m. And, by mutual agreement, O’Callahan’s and the Sit And Sip tavern will host similar tournaments on other evenings. The idea being to draw more customers into all three establishments.

So, has the whole thing been painful? No, not according to Marshall, who loves to talk about how great her employees are, the joys of living only one block from where she works, and the pleasures associated with taking good care of her customers.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s been hard going, but I haven’t had anything like the problems that I anticipated,” she says.

For those who like to make their own music, Tuesday is open mic night at Blondie’s; followed by poker tournaments Wednesdays, Karaoke on Thursday, Friday and Sunday; plus live bands on Saturday night. Call 884-1300 for directions, reservations or questions.

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