Ocean Shores opens doors on ‘Cannery’

After months of planning and construction, Mike Warburton, owner of Ocean Shores Motel, is inviting the public to see what’s happening at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Crittendon Drive.

“We’re going to have an open house for the restaurant space I’m building to show everybody and, hopefully, find one of the local half-dozen restaurants I’d like to move into the space,” said Warburton of his search for an existing restaurant operator wanting to move into the newly remodeled space.

 It includes 2,000-square-feet of dining area, a kitchen wired and plumbed to accommodate food preparation and a food storage area that includes a pantry and freezer.  

The open house is from 3-7 p.m. Sunday. Live music will be performed by Johnny B of Homer and Bunny Swan of Kenai.

“We’ll pour beer and wine, have popcorn for the folks and let people come by and take a look at it,” said Warburton.

If the remodeled exterior looks familiar, that’s because Warburton has designed it to resemble canneries that were once a familiar site throughout Alaska. 

The flooring was chosen to resemble a plank floor. The raised section running the length of the building’s roof gives a nod to a unique cannery design that accommodated diesel generators and net-drying. 

“This is prettier than that, though,” said Warburton.  

Having owned Ocean Shores Motel for 18 years, Warburton cited statistics indicating occupancy can increase 18 percent with the addition of an on-site dining facility. 

He also remembers his mom telling him “when I was a wee kid in Moose Pass that you almost have to be born into the restaurant business” in order to be successful at it.

“I have no intentions of running a restaurant,” said Warburton, who has chosen the next best solution: building a restaurant and finding someone with experience to become his partner.

He also hopes to improve Ocean Drive’s roadside presence, which “has been mediocre at best,” he said. “Drive-in traffic was maybe 3 to 4 percent. It’s all word of mouth, Internet, travel agents and guides. But no drive-up traffic. … That’s kind of the reasoning behind this, to make the building look better from the highway and get a restaurant on that site.” 

The remodel offers a spacious lobby area accessible through the west entrance on Crittendon Drive. The lobby also provides access to Total Office, offering, among other things, a selection of greeting cards, gifts and Fed Ex shipping. The dining room can be accessed through that entrance or the restaurant’s main entrance facing the Sterling Highway.

It has been almost a year since Warburton began the loan process with First National Bank Anchorage. Warburton’s background as a computer programmer and some architectural software helped him turn his vision into floor plans and drawings he could present to the bank.

“For me, it was actually kind of fun, but I spent a few nights pulling my hair out,” he said of studying the 1,500-page program manual. “But I was able to do overlays of the exterior representation of the building and present that to the bank. It knocked their socks off.”

Two days after making his presentation to local representatives of First National, Warburton received the bank’s approval.

The addition of a restaurant means Ocean Shores is a hotel, rather than motel. The number of rooms available means the business qualifies for a hospitality liquor license, “so they can serve mixed drinks with meals,” said Warburton.

The project includes converting the whole property to natural gas, with an estimated savings of $30,000-$40,000 a year. Repurposing materials that would have been discarded from other construction projects also meant a savings. Interior doors came from the rebuild of a medical building in Anchorage; exterior doors came from a remodel of the Northern Lights’ Fred Meyer, also in Anchorage.

“The interior doors are about $9,000 and the exterior door is about $12,000, so I feel really good about that. That’s more than $21,000 just on the doors alone,” said Warburton.

Another savings came when the exterior of the old structure was removed at the same time Homer was experiencing a stretch of sunny weather. 

“We were able to keep and protect three large bathrooms I put in for the old Fish and Wildlife offices when they were in here,” said Warburton of accommodations made for former tenants.

A large 20-by-50-foot deck added to the back of the dining area will expand the seating beyond the 160 Warburton estimates can be accommodated.  

With all the work he’s done, Warburton said someone wanting a restaurant can “get in really cheap. To the right people, this will be a really sweat deal.”