The switch went down quicker than a fashionably cheap beer in the hand of a thirsty chef. One minute, June was open for business and the next minute, it wasn't. The exaggeration is slight. Just a year after opening in the former-and-beloved Cremant space in Madrona, June closed for good after last Monday night's service. Literally the next day, new owners signed a lease on the space hoping to continue to fill the culinary needs of the neighborhood. And if Tom Black and Kate Perry have their way, they'll not only meet the needs, they'll exceed them when they open Restaurant Bea (fingers crossed) in mid-February.
Photo by Julien Perry
Bea is the culmination of Black and Perry's year-long search for the perfect venue to foster their concept of providing a familiar place where people can gather for comfortable food, ambiance and service. The two friends don't have a particularly dramatic story to tell--they simply followed their respective guts when opportunity presented itself. After three years away from the restaurant scene, Black (formerly of Barking Frog, Alderbrook Resort, 35th Street Bistro and Fuller's) is ready to get back behind the stove and Perry is anxious to put her passion for dining and business to good use.
In this week's Grillaxin, we'll learn why Black took a three-year hiatus from restaurants, what the two hope to accomplish with Bea, and what they've learned during their year-long search for a space to call their own. And no, they're not dating, so don't ask.
SW: How long have you two been hovering around this space?
Black: August. We found out about it within like a day of it coming on the market. We both knew this space and loved this space and immediately entered negotiations for it. Ironically, the first place we ever looked at together was in August 2010 and it was the Dulces Bistro space right across the street.
What have you learned about real estate and the restaurant industry over the past year?
Perry: I think one thing is that business valuations are kind of neither here-nor-there. It's difficult to tell where the fair price is. And also a lot of times it's difficult to get the documents that you need to make an informed decision.
Black: There's no Blue Book value on restaurants. There's the value that the current owners put on the space that they put so much of their own time and effort into and that's what causes the pricing of restaurants to vary so much.
Perry: And there's a lot of emotion going into selling your business that you worked on whether it's six months or ten years.
Black: One thing that really has struck a chord with me is that it totally makes sense why so many restaurants fail. Having conversations with people who are trying to sell their business, I've learned many of them can't produce a number that tells you how much they paid in heating for the last three months because they don't keep track of that stuff. They're just kind of flying on a wing and a prayer hoping that people are just going to love what they do and all is going to be okay.
Black: I think we've done way more due diligence than a lot of people do. We didn't rush into anything. Our idea and concept hasn't changed since day one: cool comfort food and a nice inviting environment with a polished service style. It can sound a little confusing when you say that, but when you break it down it's local food that's hyper seasonal where it's always changing based on what's available. Service is attentive but not pretentious. Also, it's been beaten into our heads over and over again that this space needs to be a neighborhood restaurant more so than the other spaces we looked at. But I think both of us really like that and embrace it. Some of the people we've already met in the neighborhood are so happy to have us here and it's a really tight community up here.
Perry: Tom and I are both gregarious and we love to be social and beyond taking the business seriously, what we really see is welcoming people into our space with a smile, excited to see them. There are a few places around town where I feel like perhaps that's missing--there are a lot of people doing it really well, but we want you to feel welcome, like you're part of the Bea family. That's pretty important to us because it's the way that we are in our personal lives.
What's your idea of comfort food?
Black: This is going to sound really weird, but it's been months since we've thought about a menu. When we first started putting the business plan together more than a year ago, I regurgitated hundreds of things which were interesting to me. My style is definitely Northwest, but the portions will be sensible and always changing and I'll have cool whimsical plays on the sort of stuff I grew up eating in the Midwest. I think Kate and I are adamant about not trying to be trendy, so I think we'll be doing some of the classics, like an interesting take on a cabbage roll or a really cool version of a meatloaf and having a lot of fun with them. And there's going to have to be a part of the menu that is really more of a playground for me; I don't know how we're going to address that, but I want a place where I can play around with food I really like to eat such as sweetbreads, lamb kidneys and all those kind of things, but they'll have to be done in a home-style, makes-sense kind of way that sticks to what we're going to do here.
I think it was kind of evolving in my head. I've always loved food and several years after moving to Seattle I got into the restaurant scene in whatever capacity I could and it slowly just started clicking with me and started making sense. I love the energy, I love the social part of it, I love digging in and making a business successful. It's the right fit. To bring people together around food, I can't think of anything better. I think that's important and I think people need that in their lives.
When was the last time you worked in a restaurant, Tom?
35th Street Bistro was the last time I was expected to stand at a range day-in and day-out. I was the Executive Chef. I left there in August 2008 and spent nearly a year teaching at Culinary Communion. And then I spent the rest of 2009 cooking on yachts. That took me to the Caribbean for the first three-and-a-half months of 2010. From there, I consulted for Hotel Sofitel in Chicago and Philadelphia.
Any reason you shied away from restaurants for three years?
I don't think I was necessarily avoiding them, I think maybe it just seemed like I was. I think this break, now that I can look back, is exactly what I needed. I spent my whole career in restaurants and restaurants are what I know and love. There's no better feeling for me than Friday night at 8:45p and the restaurant is full and the kitchen is buzzing and everybody is just doing what they love to do and you're cooking great food for people who are appreciative. People who don't get to experience that are missing out. And I got to do that for a long time--25 years in restaurants where I had a lot of great success. The nuts and bolts of the type of restaurants I was working at wore me down. If I would have been a chef in the last 10 years in a free-standing restaurant with normal hours, I probably never would have stepped away. But I wasn't. When I left [the restaurant business], I was the Executive Chef of two hotel restaurant properties which are open 365 days a year, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 24-hour room service--it never shuts down. That just kind of wore me down. I think the break and the things I've gotten to do during my break have been incredible. I got to experience things in my industry that I had always heard other people doing but I was always a restaurant guy and I never got to do anything but restaurants. So, I'm so appreciative that I got that opportunity.
Perry: It's short and sweet and really just embodies what we're picturing for this place.
Black: I've told more than a couple of people that pretty much in this process one of the hardest things has been figuring out a name. We only figured out Bea six months ago. For me--and it's stupid that I draw this connection, but--when I think of the name Bea I think of wholesomeness and I think of a comforting environment. I don't know why the name brings that up for me, but it does. And that goes in line with what we want to do--comfort food and an inviting environment. People are going to ask what the owl means, and we just like the owl. She represents.
Perry: She's cute, she's sassy, she's Northwest.
Black: I did get shot down when I asked that the owl have a bloody chicken in its talon.
Perry: That's not sweet right there!
Do you worry about this business wrecking your friendship?
Perry: The thing that I've always adored about Tom is that he doesn't put up with my shit. I'm a bit more emotional and Tom is the more noble, what-are-the-facts logical person. I think in that way we complement each other. We definitely have a banter in our friendship and in our business relationship, but we've been through some difficult times with each other where we're like, "What are we doing? Is this going to happen?". But you get through those bad times and come out the other side not wanting to be passive aggressive, not wanting to run away. That's pretty big. A business relationship, for better or for worse, isn't that different from a romantic relationship. It's a leap of faith. So, I'm not too worried.
What are your hours of operation going to be?
Black: Staring out, dinner only. Right out of the gate, we'll probably be open five nights a week. But then we'll try to expand to a sixth night. And then a month or two down the road we'll look to expand into a weekend blunch-type service. A lot of it's going to have to be figured out on the fly. This is a very unique neighborhood. It didn't really hit home until the night we signed, unfortunately, when we were walking down the street to get a bite to eat at 9:30p and this area was pretty much closed down. This neighborhood does its business from 5-9p. So, how do we maximize our business during that time? It'll be something that we deal with on a daily basis. But there are parts of this [former restaurant] that were never properly exploited that I think we'll do a lot better job of exploiting. There's a private dining room which was never properly utilized.
Perry: I would really love to see us hit some sort of happy hour crowd, too. When we're done with it, this space is going to be pretty cozy and I just see kind of snuggling up with a drink. And also in late spring or summer, when we're able to concentrate on it, we're hoping to put in place a small patio where people can eat outside.
What are your plans for the interior?
Perry: We're still working through that. Nothing's official. But we're going to warm up the space and make it homey and, you know, pay close attention to the lighting. We want to cozy it up so people can kind of hunker down in here.
We're excited to be in the Madrona community and connect with the Madrona community. I think that perhaps that hasn't been a focus for this space and it's something we're looking forward to.