Arlis Flohr was at the hospital the day he was born, and gave him his first job when he was 14. So when the time came for her to sell her diner, Callier was ready.
Ah, to be 25.
For many, it’s a time of late nights on the town, playing the dating game or working their way up the company ladder.
Unlike a lot of people his age, however, Ryan Callier can’t be so footloose.
Since buying Arlis’s Restaurant this summer from longtime family friend Arlis Flohr, Callier, a 1998 Bellingham High School grad, has been learning the pressures of being a business owner.
Following a lunch rush on a recent snowy afternoon, Callier, amid a mountain of credit card receipts and a filing system of overflowing manila folders, settled in a booth at his diner on the corner of Cornwall Avenue and York Street and talked about being a young business owner.
Though the learning curve has been steep, he said, the experience has been incredible.
“Arlis stayed with me about a month and everything was fine while she was here. Of course, once she left the growing pains started,” said the jovial Callier, who wears a permanent grin. “Once I was in charge, I learned you don’t really have anyone to go to with questions. You have to make all the judgment calls and that’s been the hardest thing for me.”
Despite adjusting to the hectic schedule of being the boss, running Arlis’s is something he’s been preparing to do, under the tutelage of Flohr, for nearly a decade.
In fact, Flohr, 69, who worked with Callier’s mother, Denice, at the old Calico Pancake House, and again at Arlis’s after she founded it in 1987, has been looking out for Callier his whole life.
“Arlis was at the hospital when I was born and she gave me my first pair of overalls,” said Callier.
As a kid, Callier often saw Flohr when he’d visit his mom at work or she’d come by the family’s house on holidays. When it came time for Callier to find a part-time job, his mother sent him down to Arlis’s.
At the age of 14, Flohr gave Callier his first job, working at her restaurant on weekends as a bus boy. Throughout high school, she taught him other jobs there, too, and put him to work as a dishwasher, prep cook and eventually line cook.
Shortly after he graduated from high school, Flohr approached Callier about the possibility of his taking over the restaurant.
“I was 19 at the time,” he said. “I felt it was a bit too early for a commitment like that. I thought I had other big things ahead of me.”
So Callier explored other opportunities for a few years, attending Whatcom Community College, working as a line cook at Bob’s Burger and Brew and as a pharmacy assistant at his cousin’s Custom Prescription Shoppe.
“In the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to own a restaurant,” he said.
The opportunity presented itself again this summer when Flohr, who had sold her restaurant to Tim Katzenberg and moved to Montana, resumed ownership after Katzenberg experienced some health and financial problems.
“I’d come by and make my intentions felt,” Callier said. “I’d ask how the business was doing and how long she was thinking about staying. She got the picture.”
Flohr, of course, was thrilled with the idea, so Callier drained his savings, took a loan from his parents and became the owner of Arlis’s on Aug. 1.
It was an emotional day.
“Because (Arlis) has known me since I was born I think that made the transition out of the restaurant business easier for her,” Callier said. “It felt like the business was staying in the family. I’ve always referred to her as my grandma.”
Before Flohr left the restaurant in Callier’s hands, she made sure he had a handle on the basics, such as dealing with vendors and taking inventory. Also, because all the food at Arlis’s is homemade, she double-checked that Callier knew all her recipes, such as her popular eggs Benedict, biscuits and gravy and chocolate crème and lemon meringue pies.
Since taking over, the only major change Callier has initiated is a no-smoking policy, one all restaurants now face with last month’s passage of Initiative 901.
“Some customers were a little angry, but most of them ended up staying,” Callier said. “Ultimately, I want people to come here for the food and atmosphere.”
Callier, an easy-going, jeans-and-ball cap guy, said he’s always enjoyed the restaurant’s everyman vibe — simple place settings, plain brown coffee mugs, home-cooked meals.
About the only flair in the eatery are some plants here and there, some paintings of tall ships and old Bellingham on the walls, and a daily trivia question handwritten on a white board (correct answers earn a discount on meals).
“I’m not into fine dining,” said Callier. “Arlis’s is what it is. We’re your hometown diner. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s good, friendly service and good food. There’s definitely not a corporate feel and you can just come in here and relax.”
While customers can come to the restaurant for some R&R, Callier said he’s found operating the establishment has kept him busier than anticipated.
A typical day, he said, consists of getting up at 4:45 a.m., coming in to bake muffins and biscuits and pies, dealing with vendors, cooking on the line, talking with customers and helping clean after closing. After work, he usually has time to hit the gym and do a little reading before preparing to do it all over again.
On Thanksgiving, Callier had just his third day off since taking over.
“I made sure there was no misunderstanding — my mom was doing all the cooking. I slept in and relaxed all day.”
Aside from holiday cooking help, Callier’s family has pitched in at the restaurant, too, where things have become a family affair.
Denice, Collier’s mother, still works as a waitress and manages the front-end of the business. His father, David, a warehouse manager at Gensco, does maintenance work; and kid sister Danielle, a student at Whatcom Community College, recently started as a server.
“The bottom line is I couldn’t have done this without them,” Callier said.
Because he grew up around the business, Denice said, her son is already getting the hang of things.
“He’s already learned a lot; he’s seen me do it,” she said. “He’s having fun and enjoying it, that’s the good part.”
Kimberly Somers, owner of the Barkley Village Bob’s Burger & Brew, saw great potential in Callier as a restaurateur when he worked there.
“What we liked best about him is that he’s responsible and has a positive attitude. He has the restaurant business in his blood and it seems to be his passion.”
Flohr, who winters in Arizona, could not be located for comment, but said this summer she believed the restaurant was in good hands.
Callier, who one day would like to open another downtown restaurant, possibly a dinner destination, said he’s determined to be successful.
“The restaurant has become my life, it’s who I am right now,” he said. “I’m trying my hardest to put out a good product out there and if people don’t like something here I w
ant to know how I can do things differently. I can’t make everybody happy, but I want to try to make as many people happy as I can.”