Holly Smith On McCaw Hall Deal: "I Though Wolfgang Puck Would Win, Frankly."


Funny story. I was talking to Holly Smith, chef/owner of Cafe Juanita, yesterday about her new role as consultant for SAVOR — the facility management company overseeing the food and beverage at McCaw Hall. She told me none of this might have happened if it weren't for a lamp in her restaurant.

See, she is friends with Mike Felsenstein, the executive chef/food and beverage director at The Lynnwood Convention Center. They worked together at Brasa years ago.

"When all the big SAVOR big-wigs were in town for some meeting when they first took over Lynnwood Convention Center, Mike brought them into Cafe Juanita for dinner. They were in their private dining room and I had this lovely tri-pod floor lamp that fell on the executive vice president's head. He never forgot about that experience. So, he literally called Mike and said, 'Do you have the number of that woman from the restaurant where the lamp fell on my head?'"

The recent James Beard Award winner says she won the consulting gig over Wolfgang Puck and some other big company.

"I said 'yes' to the consulting at first because I'm always intrigued by business and I had just thought, 'I wonder why no one ever asks me to consult?' But I got myself consulting for a place that, you know, I'm not in Kansas anymore. I have no idea how to do this in many ways."


She's talking, specifically, about serving thousands of people in under an hour on any given night.

"Forty-five minutes from walking-in to walking-out. If a show opens at 7 p.m., you have to be walking up to your seat by 6:45 p.m." Not to mention intermission.

"Now, the intriguing thing is, when the architects built (McCaw Hall) with that large dining room with a beautiful space, you can't cook anything upstairs in the cafe. The kitchen is two floors down and in the back of the building."

That means executive chef Kelly Gaddis, formerly of Porcella, has to cook everything beforehand and keep it warm. Things like braised beef cheeks, quail on polenta, goat cheese with spicy garlic and olive oil with tons of crispy herbs on bruschetta, salami plates and caprese salad.

"They hired me to come with my opinions and some of my buying power and some of just my ability to know local products."

Products like the Estrella cheese and anise hazelnuts from Holmquist which can both be found in the concessions.

"I'm there to consult, you know, to say 'Come on! We don't have to have boxes of cereal for brunch. We can have a lovely troll caught salmon quiche.' I'm there to say, 'Buy local, buy organic' to a company that's already super into sustainability which I love. These guys are way ahead of the curve."

Holly says SAVOR also hired a great front-of-the-house staff.

"I'm really impressed. The servers are really interested in the food. They say wagyu properly now."

As for juggling this new consulting role with her already thriving restaurant, the Beard Award and her Poco Carretto Gelato biz?

"Never in my poorly thought out dreams did I ever think that it would all happen at the same time."

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