Our Roots

In 1887, a twelve-year-old boy from Eyrarbakki, Iceland, arrived with his parents to Washington Island.

By age fifteen Ben Johnson was sailing the Great Lakes on a four-masted ship, working as a cook and steward. Years later, his bride Evaline Gislason, urged him to build a hotel looking upon the Island’s picturesque Detroit Harbor. Johnson listened, and opened the Hotel Washington in 1904 thanks to a $500 loan from Chester Thordarson and a “handshake loan” from Mac Gunlaugsson.

It didn’t take long for the Hotel to become the hub of Island life. For the next 42 years, Ben, noted for his jovial disposition, and Effie, “a hostess without equal,” served up fine food, lodging and great memories to their many guests. Subsequent owners contributed their own important chapters to the Hotel’s story.

We’re proud to continue the tradition that Ben & Effie Johnson began. 

The Team at Hotel Washington

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Jeannie Kokes, Owner

Since the beginning of this century, the Hotel for me was always a place to rest, join others, delight in a meal, and attend a workshop. When it was closed for four years in 2010, I missed it as did many others. After family obligations lifted and I found myself open to a new adventure, I envisioned the Hotel as an opportunity to contribute to the social, economic, and spiritual wellbeing of the Island community. It is an undertaking that has always been and always will be a grand adventure against odds. Step by step we move toward a future we can’t see, but one that I believed the universe assists us in creating.

Now five years later and almost 100 years after my grandparents rode a streamer from Chicago into Washington Harbor, the Hotel Washington & Studio welcomes guests in a tradition that Ben and Effie Johnson began in 1904. A tradition that stills honors their original words:

“Beautiful groves and lawns with the superb climate, complete the requirement of an Ideal Place for those who seek rest, recreation and pleasure.

Rates Reasonable Local and Long Distance Phones.”

 
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Shanae Mews, Hotel Manager

Born and raised on the Island, Shanae has been on the team at Hotel Washington since 2014. As Hotel Manager, Shanae keeps the Hotel humming year round. She’s grateful for the team she works with everyday to welcome guests and visitors into the Hotel’s charm. She loves to see how people are immediately drawn into the Hotel’s character when the walk in for the first time, and when they return for another visit they feel at home. Hospitality may be in Shanae’s genes as her great grandparents Pearl and Frank Gibson bought Gibson’s West Harbor and her Aunt Marianna and Uncle Herb run it now.

 
 
 
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Matt Poole, Chef

Born in the suburbs of Chicago, Matt Poole spent his first 18 years asking anyone who would listen every question that he could think of.  This curiosity didn’t let up when he left for Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend college, and served him well in the art, music and food communities there. He ran an art gallery, released a vinyl 7” record for his 30th birthday, catered and DJed the same wedding and dug through bins of dusty records anywhere he could find them.  At 31 he convinced Jill Henemeyer at Marie Catrib’s to give him a chance in the kitchen and all the loose ends of his life came together in cooking.  He took his passion, curiosity and creativity with him to California in 2013 searching for opportunities to understand this craft more deeply and hone his philosophy of food.  Through his time at Desco in Oakland and Chez Panisse in Berkeley he began to understand the power that restaurants have to nourish people and surprise them, to build economies around passionate producers and support the people who they employ.  All of this comes together in his vision for the Hotel Washington.  When you meet him, don’t be surprised if he asks you, “What are you excited to eat right now?”

 
 
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AMANDA EBENHOEH, PASTRY CHEF & BAKER

Born in the suburbs of Metro Detroit, MI, Amanda lived a life overflowing with desserts and hockey. After moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2009, Amanda studied art and baking and quickly became intrigued by the collision of the culinary and artistic worlds. She worked at Marie Catrib’s and nurtured her passion for making desserts and spoiling customers. While leading the bakery, she grew into a general management role and quickly learned the delicate dance between the front and back of house. After more than seven years, Amanda was looking for a new adventure and is excited to join the team at Hotel Washington.

 
 
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Ian Milosek, sous chef

Ian Milosek was raised in a small town just east of Flint, Michigan. He grew up alongside two brothers in the middle of the woods without cable television, leaving his head to always be filled with wonder. He has dedicated most of his life to the kitchen. Growing from a dishwasher at a small town bar and grill to Sous Chef at the hyper-seasonal Grand Rapids restaurant, The Sovengard. With no formal training, Ian continues to seek out new techniques and tastes formerly unexplored. An experimental curiosity about food, and passion for sustainability continuously inspire his innovation in the kitchen.

 
 
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SARAH LITTERO, YOGA INSTRUCTOR, RYT-200

Sarah lives on Washington Island where she has taught yoga at Hotel Washington since 2014. Her classes are inspired by her own love for movement ranging from gentle and stretchy to powerful and primal. Sarah’s mission is to bring more awareness to your body through mindful dynamic movement with a fun and freeing approach. Find classes with Sarah on our calendar. Sarah is also available for private and group classes. Email Sarah.

 
 
 
 
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Kathy Young, Beverage Consultant

Kathy delights in the challenge of acquiring and pairing notable wine and beer in collaboration with our chefs to compliment their innovative cuisine. She is a founding team member, assisting with the resurrection of the property in 2014. Kathy is an Island tree farmer, fundraiser, yogi and lover of the Island's beauty and tranquility.

 

 
 
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Jean True, Housekeeping

Jean is thrilled to be part of the outstanding team at the Hotel Washington, drawn to the Hotel and the Island for its quiet energy and the boundless cultural opportunities. With her 35 year catering, cooking class instructor, and hospitality background, she hopes to contribute to the continued successes of the Hotel. 

 
 
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Suzanne Stevens, Consultant

Suzanne Stevens is an organizational consultant working with the Hotel Washington & Studio team. She was born and grew up in Wisconsin and spends summers in Algoma now. Suzanne started coming to Washington Island in the late 70's to fish for salmon with her husband, Al Sinclair. They moved to Ohio in the 90's where they established a retreat and learning center in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Hope Springs Institute.

 
 

Sue dompke, Accountant

Accessing the financial records, she analyzes and evaluates the reliability of data, identifying efficient financial operation, and prepares Hotel Washington’s financial reports. She is a beekeeper who owns Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC, an apiary and niche micro-farm that breeds Russian honeybees and builds northern white cedar bee hives. The farm delivers local free range eggs, Wisconsin certified honey, Made to be Clean natural soaps and candles, and sugar maple products to the Hotel.