Two names were fresh on Chef Sam Crannell's mind when hearing that his grandfather Lloyd suffered a possible stroke or heart attack. His concern for his grandfather led him to think of his other late grandfather, Martin. Their two names together would soon inspire a restaurant concept that was the stark opposite of Crannell's original vision. Luckily, he knew when things were meant to be, and set the wheels in motion to open a neighborhood spot named after his two grandfathers. Crannell's LloydMartin recently earned the title of Seattle's Best New Restaurant, but the pragmatic chef-owner remains realistic about the goals of the restaurant — taking on the dreaded brunch service, cleaning toilets, and doing what is needed to keep this neighborhood joint part of the neighborhood.
Photo by No Mark At All Photography
I didn't ever start thinking of the concept of LloydMartin. LloydMartin was born out of this space. When I knew that the Bricco location had [become] available and there had been an opportunity to take it, buy it, I started thinking about the name.
The name at the beginning was Soigne (pronounced "Swan-yeh"). Nobody knew what it meant and nobody could spell it. That was the original name and everybody just thought it was horrible. We had a different menu concept, a different plan for how we were going to do things. I don't know if we'd still be open if we went that route.
I was actually out to Korean barbecue with [Chef] Dan [Matthiesen]. We were eating kalbi, just hanging out and drinking a beer. I got a phone call [saying] that my grandfather had had a heart attack or that he had a stroke or something. I didn't know what was going on. So I got in the car, I took [Dan] home. I started heading north to my Dad's. On the way up there, a lot of thoughts were running through my head, but one of them was my grandfather Martin, who was very industrious and an entrepreneur himself. He had passed about six or seven years go. I was thinking this was going to happen too with Lloyd, my [other] grandfather. So I was driving up there and I just kept thinking, "Lloyd Martin, Martin Lloyd." They were both entrepreneurs. The name sounded strong, and it meant something. So I started thinking, "Maybe this is where I need to go, maybe this was what it was meant to be."
LloydMartin has been referred to as a neighborhood restaurant. For you, what defines a neighborhood restaurant?
I think what defines a neighborhood spot to me is filling a need in the neighborhood. That's one thing. There are neighborhood spots. If you look at the Paragon, that's a neighborhood joint. The Five Spot, that's a neighborhood joint. Betty's is a neighborhood joint. Sully's is a neighborhood dive. I've been going there since I moved here. It's a great place. But for me what defines it is filling a need for the people around you.
This is an adult format that isn't a meat market; it's a place to have a good time with other adults. Queen Anne did not have that until we set that up. There's nothing wrong with restaurant with kids. I may open something up, a restaurant for all ages. We started out that way, but for us to start having liquor without making modifications to the room, [that had to change].
We're not a numbers restaurant. We have been able to stay afloat on that. I run the highest food cost on the hill. I probably run the highest food cost in Queen Anne. My prices are below what they should be; my prices are below market value and the quality of the products is very high. We're not a greedy restaurant. We're a restaurant that wants to be part of the neighborhood, be here for a while, and show them what good food really can be at a neighborhood spot.
When did you start having interest in the game meats that you feature on your menu?
All of the game meats that we're using have been things that I've really just enjoyed eating. I remember my first venison steak. I was 13. [It was] outside of Chicago at my Dad's apartment. I was eating it and I was like, "This was really good." It was venison with a mustard sauce with glazed carrots with lemon and honey.
Since then, it has just been something that has just kept coming on. Chefs are always looking for something new or different to cook, some new flavors to share with their guests. Being in the Pacific Northwest, it makes sense to produce game meats like rabbit, duck, elk, boar. All of these things are part of the local landscape, or at least [they were] at one point. It started with finding something interesting to give to our guests, and just doing riffs on [the meats] that were really normal — like a bolognese, meatball, steaks, braises, and sausages. We were doing pheasant sausage and guinea fowl sausage last winter and we'll probably do the same thing again.
Do the accolades you've received put pressure on you as a chef?
I sleep well at night. I mean, no, not really. I clean the toilet. When something breaks, I fix it. When the landlord needs to do something, it's on me. I'm not just a chef anymore, it's everything. It's a lot different from just being a chef. From the aspect of a chef, the hardest thing to do for me at this stage in the game is to improve on my cooking every day, and then improve on just my overall ability to surprise myself. Surprising myself — when I do that, I know that I've gone above the heads of the guest or that I'm at least going to excite someone.
The setup of your kitchen is very simple. How has that shaped the food you've decided to serve?
The kitchen was shaped by the electricity in the walls, basically. We've had an electrician come in once to give us more power in there, and we're out again. We are using the electricity to the max in this space. There are no outlets unused. That really shapes what we can do. We have no hood, so we had to use all induction. We had little to no ventilation. In the summer time, we've been searing foie gras, steaks, or scallops; some nights it's a bad idea, other times it's a great idea.
Storage, we have none. We have a double door fridge. We really look at what we can buy daily to determine what we can make at night. Some things take three days to prepare and other things we try to cook off as quickly they come in, and then we're out and we buy more the next day. Everything is just a very fast rotation.
We find that this kind of cooking — which Dan and I call, "soul cooking" or "the white people's soul food." — allows us to use up the ingredients quickly rather than miniaturizing everything and fussing over the food. But we fuss over the flavor, and we fuss over what we want it to be.
Most chefs are not fond of brunch. What led you to start brunch service at the restaurant?
One thing was that we had a couple of people come in and saying, "When are you going to have brunch? You should try having brunch." I had a couple people [say] that. Another thing is, money. Queen Anne is not cheap; rent is not cheap. Labor continues to go up. The hike that they did with the booze also did not help. As a young restaurateur, I'm trying to find a way to make sure that we hit payroll every time, that the restaurant stays profitable so that everyone has security in a job, and I don't go bankrupt and lose everything.
The third reason why is I know if we take the same approach with brunch as we do with dinner, there'd be no reason for people not to come. Last weekend, it was our third week and word kind of got out. We were full and we had to close the door 20 minutes after opening because we were already out of food. So, we'll be trying it again this weekend. We'll be closed Labor Day weekend, and we'll be back the following week and try it again.
I don't enjoy doing brunch only because, you were looking at a crew that was getting two days off in a row together and now, you're looking at a crew that's not. That's what's hard is you're giving up the time. I mean, it's also a time to see if we can do it. We're going to do it and just see if we can do it. It may not work. We may just go into it for a few weeks and find that we're exhausted and we're not making the money to make it worth it, or we're losing money. Anything anybody does in the restaurant industry these days is either financially driven or it's ego driven. It's one or the other. This one is definitely financial. It's just trying to get the financials where it needs to be, but there is still love and heart in it. It is a business.