The Lee, after a century of serving food on the Plateau, is closed

The bittersweet moment was marred by the historic restaurant signs being stolen — tips can be made 360-615-5707

Enumclaw’s oldest restaurant is now closed.

As of May 24, The Lee restaurant was closed and to Tim’s Kitchen, a family-run business that also operates restaurants in Tacoma, Orting, and Puyallup, and began serving the residents of Enumclaw a week later. The Lee Hotel is still in business.

This was a hard decision for former restaurant owner Diane Mills, whose family ran The Lee and the apartments above it for the more than four decades and where she worked since she was 14 years old.

“[It’s] unfortunate, but.. a change needed to be made,” she said in a recent interview.

There are numerous reasons why selling the business became necessary, she continued, which included the loss of business when Cole Street shut down every weekend since the COVID-19 pandemic until this year.

That was the least of them — the first was her health and her struggle with cancer over the last 15 years.

But despite that, Mills pushed on because “it was a legacy that needed to be ran.”

Her situation only got worse when she had a bone transplant in 2019, and then went downhill further when the pandemic began, forcing her (and many other downtown businesses) to choose between pivoting hard and surviving or flounder among the chaos.

And honestly, she said, her heart just wasn’t in it to make those sorts of changes, or to adapt to ever-increasing inflation and the cost of food, which has to be passed along to customers.

“When I started at The Lee… coffee was 40 cents,” she said. “It’s hard to watch that evolve… I don’t have the heart to raise [prices] where they need to be.”

And the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was that Mills’ kids were uninterested in taking over the business. Given her struggles working 18 hours a day to keep The Lee running, “I don’t blame them.”

So that’s where Tim’s Kitchen came in.

Mills said she received several offers from other potential buyers, but she was looking for the right fit — someone who could slide right into the space The Lee has weathered for a century without disrupting the atmosphere and make huge changes.

“It was a thoughtful process,” she said. “[Tim’s] was a lot like mine. He runs it with his son. Uses his mom’s recipies. It’s a lot the same, the best I could hope for.”

One of the last meals she served in the restaurant before the sale was to her son and his lacrosse team after they took their second state title this year — certainly a celebration for their achievement, but also a testament to the families (blood or otherwise) that The Lee created and nurtured over time.

The bittersweet closure, however, was interrupted when the two restaurant signs were stolen from the back of The Lee after Tim’s Restaurant opened.

Mills said she was planning on displaying them privately for her family, and hopes that they will be returned shortly; any tips about their whereabouts can be made anonymously to the Enumclaw Police Department at 360-615-5707.

Although that familiar forest green sign has come down and the restaurant is operating under a new name, Mills believes The Lee’s legacy will continue if the community helps Tim’s Kitchen thrive.

“I hope that people embrace it,” she said.

The owner of Tim’s Kitchen did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

The restaurant is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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The history of The Lee is a little spotty, even between two locally-published books about Enumclaw history.

According to Irene Hall’s “In the Shadow of Mount Rainier,” The Lee (formerly a saloon and boarding room) opened after Enumclaw was platted in 1885 by Joe Fell, father of Enumclaw founders Mary and Frank Stevenson.

Louise Poppleton’s “There is only one Enumclaw” adds that the saloon was built after the Stevensons gave their land to the Northern Pacific Railroad as a place to switch cars.

Room and board was $21.50, not an insignificant amount of a switchmen’s estimated average of $39.25 per month, according to the University of Missouri, and likely even more for those looking to settle in the area, as “everyone who came to look for property in the new country stayed there.”

At least it was “the best in town,” Poppleton added.

It’s unclear what happened in the next 40 years (Frank died in 1914 and Mary in 1928), but The Lee Hotel was built in 1925 by one O. M. Berg on the same site at the former saloon. It housed several businesses, including the Belmont Cafe, “where A. W. Ellsworth served such goodsteaks (sic) the governor drove up from Olympia just to eat here.”

Whether the Belmont Cafe eventually merged with The Lee Hotel, or The Lee eventually opened its own business, is unclear.


Mills, having worked at The Lee since she was 14, is also a repository for its more recent history, having seen whole families come and go — as well as some of Enumclaw’s biggest movers and shakers.

According to her, Enumclaw used to be run in the hotel’s basement.

“It was a crude form of government that worked,” she said. “You get 15, 20 guys, some of them in suits … some smelling of cow poop, sawdust, and diesel. It was what Enumclaw was, and… that where things were discussed. That’s where things were hashed out, and it was [for] the good of the community.”

She added that these discussions were often held while playing Enumclaw Rummy, a game the participants made up themselves. According to Mills, there were no records or discussions about the rules, as far as she knows, and “scores were recorded on a notebook with a pencil everyday and then destroyed.”

It’s also rumored that The Lee was connected to various other business in town via underground tunnels, speculated to have been made in order to transport bootlegged liquor during Prohibition.

While there is a tunnel that leads from The Lee to The Pie Goddess next door, “We’ve never seen that, but I did hear that, way, way back in the day,” she said.