The Stone House recently celebrated its four-year anniversary in early September, much to the delight of its owner and chef Ryan Donaldson and its group of loyal fans. The tiny Redmond restaurant has come a long way since it opened in 2008, surviving a fairly long list of challenges. “I had a vision of what to expect, and that wasn’t it,” said Donaldson, about the first few months of being open. “A 100-percent plan probably gets you 40-percent ready,” he added.
Opening a restaurant is always a risky business, but to do so at the height of a down economy was a daunting task. That aside, Donaldson also had to deal with difficulties with the building. The Stone House is a historical building designated as a Redmond City Landmark in 2007. Prior to its existence as The Stone House, the restaurant was known as The Wiley House, after its original owners, Orson and Emma Wiley, who were among Redmond’s first settlers. Just about every business in the book existed in the Wiley House before it became The Stone House, including a tea parlor, a travel agency and a Thomas Kincaid gallery.
But opening a full-service restaurant in the space was a different story. Because of its status as a historical landmark, permitting was nearly impossible, and the city rejected permits left and right for the first four months of the restaurant’s existence. “There were no vents in the kitchen. We couldn’t put in what we needed to do. So we had three camper stoves, with butane, to get pans hot enough to sear, and an electric pizza oven to finish up the firing,” Donaldson said.
Understandably, the restaurant had a very limited menu, with plenty of crossover between lunch and dinner.
When The Stone House first opened, delivery companies wouldn’t supply the restaurant because their minimums were too high to fulfill the restaurant’s needs. Donaldson was living near Pike Place Market at the time, and would often stroll through to pick up his produce, proteins and seafood. He quickly became a jack-of-all-trades, handling everything from food sourcing and cooking to plumbing. But he had help — his family. His dad is the handyman and his mom helps with landscaping. He has a brother and two sisters who’ve also pitched in. His mom bakes brownies for the restaurant, which, as a touch of hospitality that Donaldson espouses, are given away with guests’ checks.
Donaldson has put in some major sweat equity to realize his dream of owning his first restaurant. But he didn’t get by on just hard work and a little luck — talent has played a big part in The Stone House’s success. His New American cuisine is delicious and creative, and so it’s no wonder he’s flourished and developed a devoted customer base. Whimsical dishes like the deconstructed potato salad appetizer, with its fancy, deviled egg look, really tastes like potato salad when you take in all the elements on the plate in one bite. The sea scallops from the appetizer menu are gigantic, sweet morsels, and he pairs this beautiful plate with peaches, corn, roasted peppers, potato and popcorn. Donaldson’s favorite dish is from his lunch menu — braised pork with cilantro and red onion on a toasted baguette sitting in a red chili broth. Load up on napkins — this is a sandwich of epic proportions, both in size and saucy mess.
The restaurant is seasonal, so expect changes to the menu from time to time, with fare such as wild albacore tuna, watermelon cucumber, sesame and crispy leeks and Carlton Farms’ pork tenderloin with corn, peach, green beans and chanterelle mushrooms. Pair any of Donaldson’s spectacular dishes with regional wine — The Stone House only serves wines from Washington and Oregon. Donaldson also does all the desserts — don’t miss out on the zeppole, or Italian doughnuts.
While Donaldson’s first few months running The Stone House were trying times, he seems to have hit his stride. “I guess it was a bit of a blessing to not be as busy at first,” he said. The restaurant regularly does as much business in one month as it did in its first six. The Stone House is now what Donaldson had always dreamed it would be. “Walking in here now, it feels just like Grandma’s house. That’s how we want our guests to feel, like they’ve come home.”