There are restaurants that employ dozens of managers, line cooks, bartenders, hostesses, servers, bussers and dishwashers. And then there's Budapest Bistro, the fabulous Hungarian restaurant I had the chance to review this week.
Budapest Bistro is as close to being a one-woman operation as any restaurant that's not really a hot dog cart can possibly be. Owner Elizabeth Muszka employs two servers and sometimes hires a friend to help make sausages. But Muszka is the only cook. After I wrote my review, I called her to ask how she manages.
"I spend 14 hours here every day," says Muszka. "I have no freezer. I'm shopping every morning. Everything is fresh."
Muszka serves a few favorite dishes - including goulash, chicken paprikash, cabbage rolls and weinerschnitzel - on designated days to help regular customers schedule their visits. But she plans the remainder of the menu day-by-day, and sometimes has to hustle to make another entree for dinner when it sells out at lunch.
The longest days are sausage-making days. The weekly process starts after dinner service, and often doesn't end until 4 a.m.
"We have no machine to make it, so we hand mix it," Muszka explains. "So we have fun in the kitchen."
Muszka was born in Debrecen, Hungary, and 12 years ago immigrated to the U.S. after getting married. "When I came to America, I was 39-years old, and I did not speak any English," she recalls. Muszka studied the language and earned her GED at a community college. Although she'd earned a trio of college degrees in Hungary, including a statistics degree, she then went to work at McDonald's as a cashier. She was ready for a job change when Budapest Bistro's owners put the restaurant up for sale. She took over the restaurant in 2005.
Now, she says, "I cook every day and bake every day."
Seattle-area residents are better for it. To learn more about what makes Budapest Bistro worth the trip to Lynnwood (remember, it's closer than Budapest), read my full review here. And for close-ups of Muszka's cakes, check out Joshua Huston's slideshow.