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Cover Story
Bye-bye, bistro — Hello, diner

Cover Story: Laura and John Nesby are closing MorMor Bistro and will remodel their restaurant to reopen as The Green Light Diner in Poulsbo. (Tim Kelly photo)MorMor is no more, but the Poulsbo couple who ran the successful bistro and wine bar for a decade are excited about what they’ll serve up next — bacon and eggs, among other less fancy fare.

Laura and John Nesby invited the community to the swan song for MorMor Bistro on Dec. 29, and they planned to be back early the next morning to start pulling up carpet for the remodeling project that will transform their Front Street establishment into The Green Light Diner.

All the years of culinary school and working at upscale West Coast restaurants to learn about fine cuisine and expensive wines so they could open a chic place like MorMor, and now the Nesbys can’t wait to open the kind of place where breakfast is served all day.

The irony isn’t lost on the couple, who met right after high school when they were students at a culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Laura and John Nesby are closing MorMor Bistro and will remodel their restaurant to reopen as The Green Light Diner in Poulsbo. (Tim Kelly photo)“I think it’s kind of funny,” John says, “because from the time we were 18 to when we opened this restaurant, we always chased after and sought out this really upper-crust, upper scale fine-dining type of culture. When you’re young, it’s interesting and it’s fun … and that’s what we knew.”

But times have changed, the town has changed and more fine-dining options are available, and the restaurateurs have changed — they’re now 34 and have a 7-year-old son.

Their perspective as parents influenced their decision to open The Green Light Diner. Laura Nesby says they see a need for a local place that’s welcoming to families, where parents will feel comfortable bringing their kids any time of day or night to enjoy great food.

MorMor entrees such as the popular Tart Flambee and Lobster with Saffron Raviolis will give way to comfort food on the Green Light menu — omelettes, chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes, mac and cheese — but the owners say the quality will be the same.

“People know us,” Laura says, “and whether or not we’re doing super high-end expensive food or whether we’re doing a burger or fish and chips, it’s always going to be the utmost quality.”

An enlarged photo on the wall behind John and Laura Nesby shows one of their grandmothers in the MorMor Bistro. The couple chose their restaurant's name (mormor is the Scandinavian word for grandmother) to honor their grandmothers who inspired their love of cooking. Although the couple have closed MorMor and are transforming their establisment to reopen in February as The Green Light Diner, they plan to keep family photos as part of the new decor. (Tim Kelly photo)Taking the whole family out to an affordable restaurant shouldn’t mean settling for a mediocre meal, her chef husband adds.

“Just because you take your kids out to dinner,” John says, “doesn’t mean you should be relegated to having bad food, or corporate food.”

The couple is proud of what they created at MorMor and say it’s been an amazing run the past 10 years, with lots of good memories shared with customers they consider friends. Their bistro is still thriving, but they say the time is right to make a change and, John adds, “we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t want to take ourselves so seriously anymore.”

Even though waffles and corned beef hash weren’t on MorMor’s menu, Laura notes that they occasionally served breakfast as the meal for the bistro’s popular wine dinners that paired different courses with special cocktails and wines.

Many locals probably know that MorMor is the Scandinavian word for grandmother, and the Nesbys chose the name for their bistro to honor their grandmothers who inspired their love of cooking. They plan to keep some of the old black-and-white photos of their grandparents on the walls, even as the restaurant’s décor is completely redone to create a retro vibe for the new diner.

“There will be no question when you walk through the door here that it’s not MorMor anymore, that you’re walking into a whole different experience,” says Michelle Doyle, the designer who owns Michele Interiors in a second-floor office that looks into the atrium at the front of the Nesbys’ restaurant. “It’s going to be vibrant and bright and cheerful and fun.”

The bar in the atrium will stay, but it will function as the diner’s soda fountain. “Kids will finally be able to sit up at that bar, which is a huge deal for us,” John says.

In a way, the diner will be a return to his roots for Nesby, who was a freshman in high school when he started working as a cook at the Big Apple Diner on Kitsap Way in Bremerton. His parents, Mark and Patty Nesby, who once owned a grocery store in downtown Poulsbo, have owned the ’50s-style diner by Kitsap Lake for 20 years.

It’s the kind of place John and Laura recall seeking out after nights working in the kitchens of four-star restaurants in their pre-MorMor years. For a post-midnight meal, he says, “we’d go out to some diner somewhere and have bacon and eggs or something.”

His parents’ diner will be somewhat of a model for their new place, but the Green Light will be designed for their Poulsbo scene and customers.

“My parents have done a phenomenal business for 20 years at that place, and definitely that inspires us,” John says. “But we want to kind of take everything they’ve done well there, and we want to give it our own twist” from the couple’s own experiences in the restaurant business.

And when his parents decide to retire, the plan is to keep the Red Apple Diner in the family, with John and Laura taking over as proprietors.

At the Green Light, they’ll use local products as much as possible, as they did at MorMor. There will be beer on tap from Kitsap breweries, bread and pies from a small local baker, fresh seafood, and fruits and vegetables from the Poulsbo Farmers Market.

The bistro named for nurturing grandmothers in John’s hometown is being replaced, but family bonds with the elders endure.

“His mormor still lives up the street,” Laura says, “and she’ll be here to see The Green Light Diner open.”

The Nesbys hope that opening will be in early February.

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