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‘A passion for food and a passion for service’: How Kenny Andrews of the Edgewater Lounge brings faith, food and music to Diamond Lake

By Fred Willenbrock For The Spokesman-Review

DIAMOND LAKE, Wash. – When Kenny Andrews walks around his new restaurant and lounge greeting customers, his charisma has many guessing he was an entertainer, preacher or shrewd businessman. All are correct.

The 59-year-old is the driving force behind the major renovation and reopening of a closed, dilapidated restaurant near Diamond Lake in rural Pend Oreille County. He and his wife, Judy Smith, have invested over $1.5 million and plan on more to transform the cafe and convenience store into the unique Edgewater Lounge.

The couple has owned a summer house on Diamond Lake for 16 years, with their primary home and businesses in Spokane. They never dreamed of running a business here, but became intrigued by the idea when driving by the closed restaurant and store.

“We asked ourselves, what could we do to bring something to this community that was awesome,” Andrews said.

“People thought we were crazy to buy just as the long COVID-19 winter was coming. But in September of 2020, we did it,” Andrews said.

The largest industry in the region, Ponderay Newsprint, had just gone bankrupt and closed as well.

“The restaurant was filthy and needed four months to renovate,” Andrews said. “We also needed to train our staff, which is now at 45. We built a three-year plan for the business.”

By February, the Edgewater was offering takeout with a limited menu that featured family comfort food, as well as a few of Andrews’s favorite New Orleans recipes gathered during his many years in the food service industry there.

“We knew that eventually COVID-19 would pass and we would be prepared to conquer our mission,” he said.

But the experience hasn’t been without adversity.

Andrews, who is Black, said he’s encountered bigotry since he started work on the lounge.

“It’s everywhere,” Andrews said of racism.

This is how Andrews is using his faith, passion and vision for Diamond Lake to bring the lounge to life.

Not all welcoming

As Andrews and his wife worked inside and out, they would see people pass and they would wave, Andrews said.

“We found that this is a solid, family-based community,” he said. “We wanted to make something great for them via great food, great service and ambiance.”

“We knew if we could do it right, then word of mouth would spread to the surrounding region and beyond,” he said.

But Andrews said when they first opened, he received an anonymous call at the Edgewater.

The caller called Andrews a racial slur, then said, “‘get out of my neighborhood’ and hung up,” Andrews recalled.

“The next day, the same thing,” he said.

His wife, who is white, was scared, Andrews said. She said maybe they shouldn’t have bought the business.

Andrews leaned on his Christian faith, nurtured over decades. He followed his father’s preaching.

His father, the Rev. Chester Andrews, 85, has been the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Spokane for 47 years. Kenny Andrews and his two brothers and two sisters joined the celebration of their father’s pastoral service Aug. 15 in Spokane. His father and mother, Doris, have been married for 62 years.

The Calvary Baptist Church is the oldest Black Baptist church in Washington, with a long history working with the civil rights movement. The 150-member church recently celebrated its 131st anniversary.

The Rev. Peter Barrow, who was born a slave in 1840, helped found the church in 1890 after following other Black settlers looking for opportunities in booming Spokane Falls.

“I’m thankful God allowed me to live long enough to see some good come out of all that has happened in the past,” the Rev. Andrews said.

“Thank God for the gift given Kenny in so many areas,” he said. “He can greet people no matter how people greet him.”

Andrews said he looks at and loves “everybody the same.”

“Color is not an issue in my life,” Andrews said.

But, he added, racism is “everywhere.”

“I got to see the other side when working in New Orleans,” he said. “Ninety percent are Black in the heart of New Orleans. I saw Blacks’ prejudice against whites.”

“Not to brag, but Kenny always followed his dad and wanted to do something for humanity,” the Rev. Andrews said. “God gave him a gift. Whether you give him a dime or not, he will sing until the sun comes up.”

The Rev. Andrews was born in Selma, Alabama. He is the youngest of 17 brothers and sisters. His father served in World War I.

He moved to Washington in 1959 and then went into the Army, serving eight years, eventually as a mess sergeant and pastor.

He started preaching and singing in a quartet in Yakima, but his job with the telephone company brought him to Spokane in 1968. He started at the Cavalry Church as interim pastor for six years, then pastor.

“Kenny always wanted to do something to serve people,” the Rev. Andrews said. “He will be a preacher and someday will have his own church.”

“He feeds them food and not the word right now.”

Kenny Andrews is active at Calvary as a pastor and gospel singer.

Andrews is a well-known gospel singer and songwriter throughout the country; his music features Christian messages of loving your neighbor and forgiveness.

The Rev. Andrews said his son’s singing can bring a congregation to life.

“Just like you pour gas out there and light a match,” the Rev. Andrews said.

Success on the horizon

A year after buying the restaurant, the gravel parking lot at the Edgewater is full and people and customers are giving them great reviews for food and service. Smith said they are starting to make a profit.

“We are so lucky to have Kenny and Judy at Diamond Lake,” said Jeffrey Bell, director of strategic engagement at the Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

He and his wife, Kristie, live year-round on the lake.

“They have created a wonderful gathering place for locals and visitors to enjoy great food in a welcoming atmosphere. Kenny makes you feel special the moment you walk in the door and ensures you have a first-class experience. They really care about our community and are contributing in so many ways to make it a better place for everyone.”

This is a small rural community in one of the poorest counties in the state. There are only about 500 property owners around the 800-acre lake seven miles from Newport. About 70% are year-round residents, but many leave during the winter. The public boat launch is across from the restaurant, which sits on U.S. Highway 2 and South Shore Road.

The couple did bring extensive business and food service industry experience to the Edgewater.

Andrews and his wife operate L.I.F.E. Inc. in Spokane. The business has 25 duplexes in which 68 people with disabilities live. Smith started the business in 1994. They also own a gospel music label company.

New Orleans food

Andrews’ 40-year history in food service started when he was 18 and managed a Burger King in Spokane. Early in his life in the southeast, he was a regional vice-president for Burger King, overseeing several hundred franchises.

In 1985 at the age of 22, Andrews moved to New Orleans from his family home in Spokane. He had attended Lewis and Clark High School and spent two years at Eastern Washington University.

“I got the food experience of a lifetime,” he said of working with great chefs in New Orleans.

He first found a job as a kitchen manager, then catering manager at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

He served presidents, sports leaders, movie stars and entertainers.

“God sent me there to see that these people – celebrities – are just people, no matter how famous they are,” he said. “So, I was able to serve them with a sense of calmness, treating them as human beings.”

While working at restaurants and eventually the convention center, he said he learned from famous chefs.

One was Leon West, who died at the age 74 in 2020. West was a longtime New Orleans chef known for his mentorship and behind-the-scenes influence on the city’s world-famous cuisine.

Andrews eventually was promoted to executive caterer at the convention center’s culinary operation, where he catered conventions for tens of thousands.

He served three presidents, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush .

“I learned so much and kept the recipes and brought the flavors to the Northwest,” Andrews said.

While there, Andrews also sang solos at major events at the Superdome and at Mardi Gras.

He returned to Spokane in 2001 to be closer to his family.

Back in Spokane, he kept his hand in the food industry. He served as Whitworth University catering manager for more than three years.

But he is probably most noted in Spokane and around the country for his gospel music singing and song writing.

‘Totally from the heart’

His touring is over, but today Andrews will sing a gospel song in the lounge whenever he has a chance. He is also involved with music at the Calvary Church. He sang the national anthem for the final night of the Newport Rodeo this summer and at Newport High School football games.

“I was singing from the age of 4. My father was a quartet singer when living in Yakima and Spokane, and I went with him for performances,” he said.

Andrews said that his music is about outreach and sharing the gospel.

He began building a relationship with Greg Marchant at the Big Easy, the downtown Spokane concert venue now called the Knitting Factory. He helped with five events, including the 2005 gospel Mothers’ Day Brunch for 250 people.

Andrews performed all over the Bible Belt, from Texas to the Carolinas.

He met Smith in 2006. The couple does not have kids, but Andrews has six children, ranging in age from 15 to 41. He reunited with his 41-year-old daughter two years ago, and she now works at the Edgewater.

One of his daughters graduated from Washington State University in 2016. The couple said they enjoyed the college experience and attended sports and other events in Pullman while she was attending WSU. Andrews often wears a Cougars football jersey while greeting customers.

Smith was his manager during the concert days, and they have a record label together called New Creation Records. They have produced four albums, the most recent one in 2011.

“One thing I’m very proud of is performing at the first gospel concert at Northern Quest Casino and Resort in 2013,” Andrews said.

In 2005, Andrews was the grand prize winner of Washington State KHQ-Northern Quest Casino “Gimme the Mic,” a local version of “American Idol,” and sold the new car he won to fund the Gospel Extravaganza performance.

“My main concern for my gospel singing is to give a Christian message,” he said. “A message of life-changing experiences and peace and love.”

On “It’s Amazing,” a nice-and-easy single from his album New Creature, Andrews delivers a soulful and personal testimony to the power of God’s blessings on his life.

Music critics at the time of its release noted that his sharp, biting tenor melds well with female background vocals on the chorus. His fervor for gospel music can be seen in his videos while he sings and dances on stage.

“I sing totally from the heart – use what God gave me.”

A New Orleans-inspired menu

Andrews describes the Edgewater menu as Southern-based family homestyle.

He notes that the lounge is more lounge than bar on purpose. The lounge has sofas, a soft ambiance where couples can buy a bottle of wine and sit and enjoy themselves. They regularly have live performances of easy listening ’70s music or sports events on the flat screen TVs.

Andrews said they are always trying specials to appeal to families, including meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

They just completed an outdoor barbecue area where they serve the Edgewater menu or a special barbecue offering.

The lounge has a full bar and some house cocktails like “Manhattan On The Lake.” The interior has soft colors and some lake cottage décor. A new enclosed kitchen has windows where you can watch the chefs work.

Andrews’ Southern recipes are featured throughout the menu, with items including Louisiana po’boys with choice of prawns, oysters, catfish, beef or chicken.

There are more traditional choices, including a club sandwich, French dip and a variety of burgers. Entrees include porterhouse steak, sautéed prawns and fried catfish. They offer several salads, with a Shrimp Louie featuring house-made thousand island dressing.

The Edgewater has had a seafood night with gumbo and specials have included prime rib, crawfish and shrimp stew.

Andrews said they will continue to try new specials and plan to expand the menu. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

‘A passion for service’

“One band, one sound,” Andrews said when explaining his staff training. “All respecting each other and working towards the same mission. Everybody is on same page, from owner to janitor.”

They’ve hired from the community, with 12 employees coming from Newport High School, he said.

“They bought into our vision of being the best of the best,” Andrews said of the staff.

Smith works behind the scenes while Andrews is out front. They feel they are eight months ahead in their three-year plan.

“That’s what makes us a powerful team,” Andrews said. “Judy works the background and leaves me 100% on service and consistency out-front. … We have a passion for success, a passion for food and a passion for service.”