If you've enjoyed a restaurant meal in Seattle in the past six years, there's a good chance Sam Crannell cooked it for you, even if you didn't know it at the time. His first chef job in the Northwest was back in 2006 at the Homestead Golf & Country Club in Lynden. Thankfully, that gig only lasted a few months, allowing Crannell opportunities in Seattle including Paragon, Quinn's, Oddfellows and, for a hot minute, 5 Corner Market Bar & Kitchen which closed four months after opening. He even staged at Ethan Stowell's Union. "It was the first restaurant that I ate at in the city that was a city restaurant," says Crannell. "It still to this day might be the only one that's ever existed in Seattle."
Photo by Julien Perry
October 6th marked the day Crannell opened the doors to his own place, LloydMartin, in the space formerly occupied by Bricco. Joining Crannell is his long time friend and Chef de Cuisine, Dan Matthiesen, who has somehow managed to restaurant-hop with Crannell for nearly a decade.
In this week's Grillaxin, Crannell talks about the food he's ripping off at LloydMartin, the food other chefs are ripping off, and why, even though he's no flash-in-the-pan, he's partially to blame for 5 Corner's abbreviated shelf life.
SW: Had you been eyeing a space to open your own restaurant in?
Crannell: No. This concept was born from the purchase. I looked at spaces on Capitol Hill, but the deal I had up there fell apart because they're going to tear down the building. The [real estate agent] I was working with said there was a place up on Queen Anne. I was like, "I don't know if Queen Anne is going get me. I don't know if they'll get my food," and he said, "It's the old Bricco spot." My wife and I sat at the end of the bar here five years ago after they opened--we lived right behind it--and had a great time and loved the space and wanted to, if ever possible, own it. So when [the agent] told me it was for sale we said we'd take a look at it. We bought it because I needed something to do.
My very first job in Seattle was at Paragon and I cooked the same food that I was cooking when I was at Quinn's, portions of which I cooked at both Oddfellows and 5 Corner. There was food that fluidly ran through all of those restaurants that were the same dishes. Some people flocked to them, other people didn't. I didn't know if it was the space, the food, the environment, the timing or location. I'm still not sure which one it is. So, that's why I'm saying I'm not sure if they got my food or would get my food. I think that was just me being unsure--a very unsure businessman and an unsure chef. Where do I best fit in to a city that I love?
Where did your cooking career begin?
Chicago. I lived there before moving to Seattle. I worked at Atlantique with Jared Wentworth who is now the chef/owner at Longman & Eagle. I worked with him at Paragon. I worked with him at Quinn's where he was the opening Chef de Cuisine. I also worked briefly with him for two months at Ama Ama. I was there for the very last part, right before they closed, to help make sure we were controlling our costs through the process of closing the doors.
I was the sous chef at Atlantique and we were buying chanterelles, trumpets, clams, geoduck, mussels--all the things that really intrigued me about food were coming from this area and I wanted to be closer to the source. Ironically, for the most part, I'm not able to be closer to the source all the time because it costs too much.
What happened with 5 Corner Market?
Everybody asks that. I think there was a price-point issue, overall. There wasn't enough internal aesthetic change [from the former Lombardi's] for Seattle. And Seattle is a spatially-related dining pack. It's funny, you talk to somebody from New York, you ask them, "How was your meal?" and they say, "It was absolutely fantastic!" When you ask someone from Seattle that same question they say, "The space was nice." That's the first thing that comes out of their mouths. So, I think that was part of the problem. The second part of it was financial. And the third part of it was that I couldn't get my shit together; I couldn't find a way to get my shit together. As a chef, I partially feel responsible for their loss. As far as everything else, I don't know, man. Restaurants close, but the whole time I was there I never felt like I could get the ground underneath me. It was like we were open for lunch and then I told [the owners] they shouldn't be open for lunch. So, we open for lunch anyway and we're losing thousands of dollars and there's nothing I could do. Then we close for lunch, and I'm like, "Cool. Now I have to fire all these people who you had me hire to open for a lunch that I told you not to open for." So, those kind of things were happening in addition to not knowing if people were going to come in or not. How do you order when you have a busy Friday night one week and 10 covers the the next?
Regardless of how I feel personally about [owners] Linda Derschang and Scott Staples, professionally they're good at what they do. We just don't mix. There's a point in your career where you have to spread your wings and just go ahead. Put your money where your mouth is. Fail or succeed on your own terms. I've been looking to do my own thing since Quinn's. I was there for 14 months. By month 10 I knew I had to open my own place.
So, how does it feel to have your own place?
Completely worse than it did then, but better, too. I'm having the most fun I've ever had, but I'm also learning so many things. I'm finding out how blindfolded I was in thinking what it really takes to run a restaurant and what it really costs personally, professionally and monetarily. I mean, it's insane, and the restaurant just needs. It's a living, breathing, needing thing. It wants for everything. It has desires. If you don't meet them, then eventually your restaurant won't give you exactly what you want. It's a really weird relationship that I'm having with the space I'm in right now.
How is the tiny size of your kitchen reflected in your menu?
When I looked at this space I came up with an idea of what I wanted to do food-wise. I said, "I have a restaurant that has no ability to do what I've been doing my entire career, for the most part. Now what?" I mean, you can't even sear anything in here without somebody catching wind of it and complaining that it smells bad. I wanted to cook turn-of-the-century food. I wanted to take and completely rip-off Auguste Escoffier. I wanted to take verbatim recipes and then look at them again and go, "What would I do today with this recipe?" It's the same thing with [Joel] Robuchon and Marco Pierre White. Basically, if it was hit before 1985, that's what we're cooking back here with the technology and technique of elBulli. That's what this restaurant is. It's a modern take on retro food and keeping it as organic as possible, meaning I'm not throwing maltodextrin into dishes.
Cooking pheasant, cooking elk, lots of game. Using food that maybe we haven't seen for a long time or food that we have, but didn't know how old it really was. Right now on the menu we have a fried farm egg with chanterelles and taleggio fondue, a little bit of greens and ham. Well, you can look at it and say that I'm clashing Italian and French cuisine or you can look at where the roots of where all those products came from and be able to pinpoint which world it is really from.
What is your kitchen lacking?
A hood, gas, and time. Time is what we lack the most. With the constraints of what we have to do, it takes twice as long--or three times as long--to produce a product that, if we were in a conventional kitchen, would take an hour. We braise, we smoke, we cure. We have to rethink how we're doing food.
How many cooks can you fit in your kitchen?
If I lost 100-pounds, maybe four. Right now there's three of us.
You're currently open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Any plans to expand to lunch or brunch?
I will never do brunch. Never. I will never be able to cook eggs the way a person's mother did. And until I can do that, I'm a failure at it. I'm not good at it! I would feel guilty if I was open for brunch at this point in time.
Where did the name LloydMartin come from?
Lloyd is my grandfather on the Crannell side who was a farmer and a grocery store owner--he owned three grocery stores in Montana. Martin, my other grandfather, was an insurance business owner in Chicago. Both successful business owners. There hasn't been anyone else in my family since those two who have gone the route and I said, "Well, they both succeeded. I'll use their names!" It was really that simple.
I think right now chefs are doing a really good job of staying afloat through the economic turmoil; coming up with food they can sell that makes guests happy as well as putting money in their pockets. The other thing chefs here have been doing really well is ripping each other off. Every restaurant you go into you see some of the same dishes, so they've been doing that too well. My favorite things that have been happening are seeing some chefs that were kind of cooking, but not cooking, coming back. I'm really excited to check out Tamara Murphy's new spot. For her to be in an environment where she's being creative again I think is a great thing for this city. I am also excited that Scott [Staples] is opening Zoe again and seeing what that does. Some of the chefs that have been around for awhile, like Thierry [Rautureau], seem like they're reinventing themselves by opening a new concept, and I think we need that. I know we need that.
What's the first thing you eat when you get off work?
Usually, some kind of encased meat, whether it's salami or mortadella or fried chicken--I'll even go to the evil empire and eat their fried chicken. I love fried chicken and any type of cured pork product whether it's a hot dog, salami, bratwurst. I eat things that you shouldn't eat, pretty much. If all of those things are not available, cereal.
What kind of restaurants do you like to eat at?
I try to visit family-owned establishments. One of my favorites is Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan right on 12th and Jackson. I really like ethnic food.
What else do you want people to know?
Before this restaurant either takes off or fails, it's a good place to eat right now. That much I know. I know the heart is in it, I know the passion is in it, and I know that we're excited about being here.