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New pub opens, but issues from old place remain
Owners hope Swimdeck’s launch will help resolve financial mess left from Chehalis pub’s closure

By Tim Kelly
KPBJ editor

Photo credit: Larry Steagall

“Swimdeck_Stacy”: Stacy Bronson and her partner, Dave Tagert, recently opened The Swimdeck on Bay Street in Port Orchard. The couple owned another pub in Chehalis that went out of business in June, and they still owe some former employees their final paychecks.Around the time the nautical-themed Swimdeck held its grand opening in Port Orchard, the proprietors’ other pub in Chehalis went under, leaving in its wake employees who didn’t get final paychecks, long-running disputes with the landlord, and a loss of the substantial investment the entrepreneurs made in renovating the place.

Stacy Bronson and Dave Tagert, the couple who recently opened the Swimdeck in a Bay Street location they extensively remodeled over the past year, closed their struggling Devilfish pub in Chehalis in late June. 

That operation had been beset by problems near the end, such as the compressor for their beer taps breaking down and needing an expensive repair; their water service being shut off by the city for non-payment; and street work being done by the city that temporarily closed their block to traffic. 

Bronson and Tagert acknowledged they have not paid some Devilfish employees, but said they are working to make things right. They said artifacts that had been displayed in the pub — including antique deep-sea divers’ helmets — are for sale on eBay and craigslist to raise money to pay their debts.

They’ve already liquidated all their personal assets, Tagert said.

“We sold everything we could to try to keep the Devilfish going,” Bronson said. 

They hope their new business, which they originally planned to have ready to open much sooner than this summer, will be successful and allow them to work their way out of the financial mess from the Devilfish, which was open for three years.

“We had every intention of having the Devilfish open and this open,” Bronson said during an interview July 15 at the Swimdeck before the pub opened that afternoon.

But as work on the Swimdeck took months longer than they anticipated, things started going downhill at the Devilfish as they spent more and more time in Port Orchard trying to get the new place going as summer approached.

The couple blames much of their Chehalis pub’s demise this year on the city’s streetscape project that has restricted traffic on their street many times. Bronson has photos taken shortly before the pub closed showing a “road closed” sign during the construction.

Tagert was critical of the timing of the street project, saying it would have kept their block closed during a major summer event — the STP Bicycle Classic (held July 12) in which thousands of cyclists ride from Seattle to Portland, through Chehalis on a route that passes near their pub. 

However, they closed the Devilfish a few weeks before the STP because, as Bronson said, the pub was “hemorrhaging.”

“We were more and more and more in debt down there, and there was just no way we could get it to stop,” she said. “This (Swimdeck) didn’t get opened soon enough, and (the Devilfish) went down faster and faster. So it was just like this perfect storm.” 

Tagert, who used to own dive shops in Port Orchard and Gig Harbor, and Bronson thought their “gastropub” concept would succeed, but Chehalis — a town of fewer than 8,000 residents on Interstate 5 — proved too small a community for it to work.

“Chehalis was a mistake,” Tagert said. “It was one of those things, we never considered the population.

“That’s one of the reasons we decided to come back to Kitsap County.”

Former Devilfish employees, who received no notice before the place closed, tell a different story about the pub’s deterioration. 

Paul Adamson was hired a few months ago as kitchen manager. He said he’s been unable to cash a paycheck for $589 he received June 14, and that the owners also owe him for the last couple weeks he worked there.

He was hopeful when he started that the place could be turned around, despite “deficiencies” in the kitchen, where most of the cooking was done in two microwaves and a panini press grill. But Adamason said the pub’s supply of food and beer dwindled significantly near the end. 

“There was always an excuse,” he said. “The last two weeks I could see what was going on.”

Christine Kardos, a bartender who worked there about two months and left a week before the Devilfish closed, said the pub was understaffed, resulting in poor service. 

Kardos said Bronson once gave her $200 cash out of the night’s proceeds because she hadn’t received a paycheck in a few weeks. She has filed a claim with the state Department of Labor & Industries over her unpaid wages. 

The landlord, Don Portnoy, said his relationship with Tagert and Bronson was rocky throughout their years as tenants, but that he wanted them to succeed after they worked to transform the building into an attractive site.

“I wish this wouldn’t have ended this way, because it’s a beautiful place and it’s a shame,” he said. “I’m the last guy that wanted to see them go out of business.”

Portnoy said the couple owes four or five months’ back rent, but Bronson and Tagert disputed that. They said they were never more then three weeks late paying their rent before June.

Now that the Devilfish is gone, Bronson and Tagert are persevering with the Swimdeck and hope to pay the unpaid wages and state business taxes they owe as soon as possible.

Some unpaid employees and others started posting negative comments on the Devilfish and Swimdeck’s Facebook pages, prompting Bronson to take down both sites. She said she did it because she wants to pay her former staff as soon as she can, and that attempts to “sabotage” their new business are counter-productive for those employees.

Tagert sold his dive business in 2012, and they used the proceeds to enhance the Devilfish and to start work on the Swimdeck last year.

Bronson is adamant in saying they never took any profits out of the Devilfish to spend on their new business.

“The truth is Dave and I lost a house, all of our assets, every one of our assets, to these businesses to make them work,” she said.

They even lost the last vehicle they had when their 15-year-old Range Rover was stolen from in front of the Swimdeck the day before their grand opening. Tagert left the rig running as they unloaded supplies, and a woman passing by drove off in it.

Police recovered the vehicle the next weekend, but it had been trashed. The only consolation for the owners was that their two dogs who usually go everywhere with them weren’t in the rig the morning it was stolen. 

The persevering pub owners remain convinced their approach can be successful on the second try.

“The concept’s outstanding,” Tagert maintained, “but it just has to be in the right place.”

 

 

 
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