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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lovitt Restaurant in Colville closing after 11 years

Chef Norman Six smokes pieces of meat. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Chef Norman Six smokes pieces of meat. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

The smoker out back is big enough to hold a whole animal.

But the scent wafting around the famous front porch and greeting guests today comes from smaller cuts of meat: steak tri tips and a rump roast, aged four and eight weeks in the root cellar.

Chef Norman Six lifts the lid to check the progress on what will become some of his last steaks in the old farmhouse on the hill. In three weeks and with a heavy heart, he’s closing his kitchen.

“I don’t want to leave,” he said.

But, his wife said, “Our lives have changed.”

The Sixes – chef Norman, 44, and wife Kristen, 42 – bought the historic property a decade ago with the dream of running a slow-food restaurant near the intersection of a town in which he had grown up. For all intents and purposes, they achieved their dream, opening the doors to Lovitt Restaurant before they were parents and worried about college funds and other costs associated with child-rearing.

“I don’t want to blame the kids,” the chef said. “But we would absolutely not leave if we didn’t have young children.”

The property has been for sale since last spring. And the restaurant – known for its scratch-made meals and sweeping views from its Queen Anne veranda – is closing near the end of the month.

The last day for dinner reservations is June 22. Special farewell dinners slated for June 23 and 24 are already sold out.

Since word has spread that Lovitt is shutting down, more and more diners – longtime customers, old friends, new faces – have been making reservations. In fact, the Sixes hired someone to work 30 to 40 hours a week to help meet demand.

“She just got here in April,” said Kristen Six, who handles the front of the house while her husband mans the kitchen.

Most of the time, Lovitt is a two-person show, an old-school mom-and-pop restaurant. That’s the way the Sixes like it.

“We’re really complementary to each other,” Kristen Six said. “We can run a restaurant on our own without too much outside help. We’re not making college-fund money. We’re making starting artist wages.”

But they have two daughters: Paige, 7, and Norma Jean, 1. And the restaurant’s busiest times – holidays and the tourist season when folks in the Inland Northwest head for the lakes and mountains – coincide with school holidays.

“It’s an 18-hour day every day,” Kristen Six said. “We get up at 6 a.m. with our daughters, and we’re up until 10 or 11 at night.”

In summer, she said, “we work around the clock.”

Chicago style

The Sixes are hoping that relocating their restaurant to a larger market on the West Side – maybe even Spokane – and hiring additional employees would offer some relief to their schedules and help add money to the girls’ college funds.

But it hurts their hearts to leave this place. Lovitt has been both their livelihood and their home. For the past 11 years, they have lived above the dining room and kitchen, in an upstairs apartment in the old 1908 Ham farmhouse, listed on the state historic register.

It sat empty for more than a year before they were charmed by the veranda overlooking the Colville Valley and fields that once belonged to the old homestead. The farm had spanned some 160 acres when the house was built. Today, the property, which the Sixes bought in 2005, encompasses not quite 2 acres.

Moving in was somewhat of a homecoming for the chef, who grew up in Tiger – “an intersection now,” Norman Six said – about 3 1/2 miles south of Ione in neighboring Pend Oreille County. His parents, now in their 80s, still live there.

Growing up, they raised chickens and goats, which gave the future chef an idea of what meat should taste like.

“The meat I ate growing up was better than I had anywhere else, when I traveled or when I went to Chicago for school,” he said.

Norman Six graduated from Selkirk High School in 1989, then attended DePaul University in Chicago. He graduated in 1994 with a degree in English and began working in restaurants: Eat Your Hearts Out, Blackhawk Lodge and Tomboy, where he met his wife.

Just like they do now, he worked in the kitchen, and she worked in the front of the house. She was still in school, also studying English at DePaul, then history at University of Illinois at Chicago. “I was going to go work at museums,” she said.

Kristen Six grew up in the city’s hip Wicker Park neighborhood, where the couple opened the original Lovitt – a tiny BYOB restaurant with 26 seats – in September 2002. The name, Norman Six said, is kind of a “bad pun,” for what they hoped customers would think of the food: love it.

“We just ran it on weekends because he didn’t quit his day job” as a database engineer for the national YMCA headquarters, she said, adding. “We bought it on a credit card.”

Four months later, Lovitt was featured in a New York Times story about one-chef restaurants. “So then he had to quit his day job,” she said. “That sort of changed our lives.”

The story – “Chefs Who Only Have Themselves to Blame” – ran New Year’s Day 2003 and said Norman Six “finds satisfaction in the fact that his signature is on every dish. ‘It’s a lot more personal,’ he said. ‘The restaurant is so small that I can overhear conversations, so if someone says something nice about the food, it’s really gratifying.’ ”

Chicago Tribune ran a review a month and a half later, on Valentine’s Day. “Good luck getting a table at Lovitt,” it began.

Rural roots

The Sixes, who married in 2004, dreamed of running a restaurant in a rural setting closer to his roots. So they spent their honeymoon scouting locations on the Washington and Oregon coasts. Nothing tugged at their heartstrings until they saw the old Ham farmhouse during a visit to see his parents in March 2005.

Norman Six remembered eating there as a kid, back when it was the family-style Roadhouse restaurant from 1981 to 1993. Later, it became the Quail’s Nest, which “was not so much as a restaurant but a B&B and a place you’d have weddings,” he said.

But, “People had good memories up here, memories of good food,” she said.

In fact, “we still get calls that reference The Roadhouse,” he said.

They had never owned real estate nor renovated anything. But they moved in that summer and got to work remodeling the kitchen and dropping the floor in the root cellar in an outbuilding they call the cottage. Today, it’s where they age their meats and store other foodstuffs.

They also cleared out the place. “We took 10,000 pounds of trash out of here,” Norman Six said. “We know because the dump makes you weigh it.”

The Sixes opened the new Lovitt that September, specializing in regional, seasonal, skillfully prepared American dinner fare. Today, they estimate 95 percent of their ingredients are local. The bulk comes from within 70 miles.

Herbs are grown in their garden. Dairy products come from Darigold and Douglas Falls Creamery in Colville. Produce comes from Front Porch Farm in Addy and the local farmers market. Red Bridge Farm in Colville supplies chickens and eggs. Cheese comes from Goats-R-Us in Northport.

“We go a couple of times a year to Pullman and get a case of Cougar Gold,” Kristen Six said. Her husband also makes cream cheese.

“Our commitment is to make everything from scratch,” Kristen Six said. “We don’t waste anything.”

Planning ahead

The Sixes don’t plan to change their food philosophy when they reopen elsewhere. In fact, “Any way we do this, we’re going to keep our Stevens County meat purveyors,” said Norman Six.

The couple aren’t certain where it will be. Topping the list is Olympia. Bellingham is up there, too. Maybe Seattle or Portland. The Sixes would prefer somewhere they could live close to their restaurant, maybe even right around the corner.

Kristen Six said she would move to Spokane “in a heartbeat” – if they could find the right spot.

Both she and her husband are hoping longtime customers will look them up wherever they land – for the candied Brussels sprouts, sourdough fried chicken, morel-asparagus spaghetti, nettle soup with lemon puree.

“Our liver and onions has made a few old ladies cry,” Norman Six said. “They eat it, and it reminds them of 1963, and all of a sudden they’re teary, which gives me goosebumps, which is I guess why we’ve stayed here all of this time.”

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