Most anyone who lives in Wallingford has surely been to the Blue Star Café & Pub, known for its extensive daily breakfast menu, casual dining atmosphere, and awesome rotating beer selection. Over the years, many regular neighborhood customers have had the pleasure of getting to know the man behind the breakfast: Leon Torrey. Back in November, Leon lost his nine-month battle with prostate cancer and passed away just before Thanksgiving.
On a quiet Sunday evening in early December, the restaurant closed for a private celebration of Leon’s life by his family, friends, long-time customers, and current and former staff, some of whom had worked for him as far back as thirty years ago! It was an evening filled with flowers, tears, hugs, and laughter, as memories and favorite “Leon stories” were shared, and many old-time staff reunited.
Leon started in the restaurant industry in 1975, and was most well-known for his Eggs Cetera on Broadway in Capitol Hill and his Sweetwater location in Redmond before relocating to Wallingford in 1996. His entrepreneurial spirit, dedication, and hard work transformed the Blue Star into another beloved neighborhood institution. Shortly after his daughter Wendy Morales came back into the family business in 2009, knowing the restaurant was in good hands, Leon officially retired.
But for Leon, being “retired” meant still showing up every day, mostly in the form of Wendy’s go-to handyman. Leon was the MacGyver of the restaurant, usually able to fix just about any issue (and in a building as old as that one, there is always something to fix!). His specialty was refrigeration, but if he wasn’t able to fix it himself, being in the industry as long as he had, he always knew the right person to call.
Now that Leon is gone, Wendy single-handedly runs the show. And just like her dad, she is not afraid to get her hands dirty to do whatever it takes to keep the business running: You will often find her on the line, sweating with the cooks to get through a brunch or dinner rush; unloading heavy boxes of supplies from her pickup truck; or back in the prep kitchen, rolling out dough for their fresh-baked goodies.
Asked to reflect on the lessons learned from her dad over the years, Wendy replied:
The restaurant business was a way of life since I was 9 years old, and always the nosy one, I paid close attention to my dad’s successes and challenges throughout those years. Truly, the only way to see him was when I would spend summer breaks and weekends just hanging out in Madison Park at Eggs Cetera, our home away from home in those days. I often laugh, and wonder what people thought about me as their 12-year-old busser, and later, their 15-year-old server. Coming back into the family business (after twenty years of raising my own family and pursuing other careers) was a heartfelt move and an absolute privilege, and again, a way for me to hang out with my dad.
What do I have in common with my dad that makes this my calling? I, too, understand the value of owning a neighborhood establishment and servicing our customers the best way we possibly can. I treat the Blue Star, and all we know it to be, as something to “take care of.” I work at maintaining and improving what people have known to love: our service, scratch recipes, quality ingredients, pricing, and selection … to name a few. I enjoy the daily challenges we’re faced with in this business and feel such pride as we continue to grow and make the neighborhood eatery evolve and “grow up” as I did, actually right alongside the generations of our loyal customers.
If you haven’t already paid your respects, Wendy would love to hear from you! If you would like to make a contribution in Leon’s name, the staff chose to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to honor Leon’s open-mindedness and inclusiveness, which he demonstrated through his widely diverse staff throughout his career.
Another great way to “pay your respects” is to continue to support this local, family-owned business to help keep Leon’s legacy going strong. Many friendships have been forged at that old wooden bar counter throughout the years. As always, the Blue Star is a great place to enjoy an amazing array of delicious food and local microbrews, but more importantly, it’s a place to meet up with or get to know your neighbors. So stop by soon and make a new friend or two!
If you’d like to read more about Leon’s full and diverse life, you can read his obituaries in the Skagit Valley Herald and The Seattle Times. Donations can be made in his name through the ACLU website.
All photos courtesy Wendy Morales.