Western theme thrives at iconic Winthrop eatery
The second thing you should know about the new owner of Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon, Seth Miles, is that he, like all previous Three Fingered Jack’s owners, is in full possession of all of his digits. And the first thing you should know is that with his background in restaurant and bar work and his extroverted personality, Miles is an excellent fit to be the proprietor of the iconic Winthrop downtown restaurant.
Adorned with the unforgettable mural of a man in bed with a horse, Jack’s, as the locals call it, is a Winthrop mainstay restaurant and bar, a solid anchor at the four-way stop. It’s a bustling establishment — meetings take place there, family meals are eaten there, late-night pool sessions happen with great regularity.
Opened in 1972 by Corky Scharf and named for Jack Lemma, a kitchen employee with an incomplete mastery of the butcher knife (although he only lost one finger to the chopping block; the other fell prey to blasting caps), Jack’s is a place that generations of families have gathered to enjoy each other’s company over unpretentious food in a comfortable atmosphere.Miles looks forward to continuing this tradition of providing Winthrop residents and visitors with reliable dining and friendly service.
Miles is no stranger to small towns and the role that prominent eateries play in the success of such places. Raised in Stehekin until high school age (the Stehekin school stops after eighth grade), Miles then lived in Sequim through graduation. In his early 20s, Miles spent some years traveling the country and “working as a ski bum” in restaurants and bars in ski area towns, or cooking at ski area cafeterias. He also catered, managed breakfast programs, and worked the front of the house.
Miles eventually found his way to computer work, and it was in a dot.com situation that he learned some excellent lessons about business management when the company failed. “You can’t fix problems by just throwing money at them,” he says, “you need solutions.” From that experience, Miles says, he “learned about the importance of fiscal responsibility and open communication” — two of many items in the management toolbox he brings with him to Jack’s.
Miles and his family moved to the Methow Valley in 2007, where he worked remotely for Concur, which provides travel, expense and invoice management services. The work was rewarding for many years, but it required much travel and took him out of the valley for long periods of time. And then, says Miles, “I was in a bit of a rut.”
Buying Jack’s has reinvigorated Miles, although he admits that in his first 10 days of ownership, “I haven’t slept a lot.” But being based in the Methow Valley for both work and home life is satisfying, as Miles reconnects with his community of friends and gets to know other residents and visitors through Jack’s. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know other members of the business community,” he says, “as well as meeting many of the regulars and intermittent guests who come in.”
Miles anticipates carrying on the same community-minded approach to Jack’s that previous owner Mike Clayton valued: a good relationship with the town council, sponsorship of the Rhythm and Blues Festival, and participation in the town’s events. “I see myself in partnership with the town,” he says.
Growing up in Stehekin and then raising his son (Kellen, now 14) in the valley, Miles values community and the “all-hands-in” approach required for places like the Methow Valley to thrive. Miles has served on the board of the Public School Funding Alliance, he’s been a youth soccer coach, and he referees soccer and basketball. He’s also a self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiast and beer drinker, with the former balancing out the latter, of course.
No big changes
Miles knows that Jack’s success rides on the experiences of his guests, who, he says, range from local regulars, to east and west side families who have been bringing their children and grandchildren to Jack’s for years, to visitors stopping in for the first time. “They’re coming for the experience of eating in an Old West saloon,” he says. “We’ve got that Western theme in a steakhouse, with burgers and other pub food as well as a classic cowboy breakfast.”
Miles intends no sweeping changes at Jack’s. The full team is staying on board and more employees are slated to begin working soon, in anticipation of a busy summer. “Jack’s is well-established,” says Miles. “The team is great. Jack’s has a well-deserved good reputation and I don’t want to mess with that.” Miles credits Mike Clayton and his wife, Lisa, with the stability and success of Jack’s.
Mike Clayton is helping Miles with the transition at Jack’s, and says “It’s going remarkably smoothly.” While Mike was the publicly visible owner of Jack’s for 22 years, Lisa, he says, was half of the team. Mike ran the business while Lisa took care of all the details that made it work behind the scenes: the books, payroll and paying the bills.
Now, without Jack’s consuming their time and their kids grown and out of the house, the Claytons plan to tackle some long-neglect projects at home. “I’m not one to sit around,” says Mike. “I still plan to work — on the golf course or bartending — three days a week to keep my head clear and my hands busy.”
It was a great run with Jack’s, the Claytons say. “There were highs and lows, but overall it was pretty darn good. It’s an institution,” Mike says. An institution that they feel confident in Miles’ ability to preserve.
Like his predecessors, Miles wants “everyone to feel comfortable and welcome at Jack’s. I want them to have a great dining experience.” And whether you’re a Jack’s first-timer or, like one couple, you’ve been coming to Jack’s since 1978, Miles urges you to come in and say hello. “I look forward to continuing to get to know the community.”
With its hearty meals, friendly service, welcoming atmosphere and Western ambiance, “Jack’s sets the mood of the town,” says Miles. “I plan to continue that legacy.”