JUNE 30, 2017, ALLYN — As a business owner and resident in Mason County, Nathan Welch understands that to get what you want in this county, sometimes you have to make it yourself.
Welch and his wife, Emma Welch, have owned the successful wilderness therapy business Rites of Passage Northwest for seven years, but now they’re branching out to bring even more to Mason County — an oyster bar, outdoor beer and wine garden and, eventually, a boutique hotel.
The Welches purchased the ice cream parlor North Bay Kayaks & Kones in Allyn from Bonnie and Richard Knight, as well as the upstairs lodging unit known as the Allyn House Inn.
With the purchase came the Knights’ plans to build a 39-bedroom hotel on the waterfront, plans that the Knights couldn’t execute due to the financial climate post-recession.
“We would drive by this site all the time and I saw the signs they’d had up describing the hotel,” Nathan Welch said. “I’ve learned that in Mason County, if you want to see something happen, you either bring it to the county or you build it. I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
The ice cream shop, now known as the Allyn Ice Cream Parlour, would move into the lobby of the hotel once it’s built, though Welch doesn’t expect that to start until spring 2018 at the earliest.
“Hotel financing is an octopus of a mess,” he said. “The land has been permitted since 2002 for a hotel, but they weren’t able to get it off the ground. The big banks won’t touch you unless you’re a chain. I will likely self-finance at first until banks can see the potential that I see.”
That potential includes revamping the ice cream parlor this summer to include a separate and enclosed, family-friendly outdoor beer and wine garden facing North Bay, with local brews and cider on tap and fresh oysters and clams for sale.
“I want it to be something like what Hamma Hamma Oyster Company has (on Hood Canal) or Taylor Shellfish’s oyster bars in Skagit,” Nathan Welch said. “This is a beautiful venue, why should someone have to drive to Hood Canal or Skagit to enjoy oysters?”
The ice cream parlor will keep the same ice cream supplier, Olympic Mountain Ice Cream, and will still have kayaks available for rent, but the Welches are adding catered and self-catered guided kayak tours.
The shop will also feature more information about their other business Rites of Passage, so people can learn more about what it is they do, Nathan Welch added.
Since 2010, Rites of Passage has worked with 100 families and is now successful enough for the couple to bring on an executive director, freeing up their time to start their new venture.
“Rites of Passage is growing at a reasonable, not out-of-control rate, so it will be a lot easier to maintain compared to having to build something up,” Nathan Welch said. “It takes a lot of creative energy to build something.”
Welch wrote the curriculum for Rites of Passage in 2009, while he was deployed in Afghanistan serving as a National Guard captain and working on his master’s in business administration from Grantham University.
He had worked in the outdoor recreational industry in his early 20s, but serving in Afghanistan showed Welch what direction he wanted his life to take.
“I wanted to give back,” he said in 2015. “You go to the second poorest place in the world, and you learn that you’re essentially fighting poverty. Many of the guys I served with returned home and destroyed their lives. The real war is with chemical dependency, suicide.”
While Nathan Welch worked with men on addiction and chemical dependency issues, Emma Welch worked with survivors of domestic violence.
In the span of four years, the couple got engaged, started Rites of Passage in Bellingham, married and had and lost their first daughter, Bonnie, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Motivated by grief, they moved their business to Kitsap, then to Thurston and finally to Mason County in 2015, on a large property near Pickering Road.
Rites of Passage offers six- to 12-week wilderness therapy treks to Olympic National Park, where groups of teens and adults learn survival skills and participate in cognitive and family therapy with mental health professionals.
The Welches have another daughter, Aurora, 4, and a son, Jericho, 2.
“We are busy, busy, busy,” Nathan Welch said.
The couple is confident about their new business because it doesn’t compete with any others in Allyn and, based on their experience with their own rental properties in Mason County, they shouldn’t have any difficulty keeping the hotel occupied.
“I haven’t had any major blowback, but there’s been some fear because it’s such a massive undertaking and people aren’t sure Allyn can support it,” Nathan Welch said. “I think people will love it or hate it. But we’re about helping people and hospitality. This is the best of both worlds.”