Tiffany RanFrom the coffee cake he made when he was seven, to

Tiffany RanFrom the coffee cake he made when he was seven, to serving dinners at farmstead communal tables, and acting as Program Director of Matt Dillon’s Corson Building, David Sanford’s varied culinary experiences has been fueled by a desire to constantly create, one sparked by his very creative grandmother, Belle Clementine. Now owner of the restaurant of her namesake, Sanford is bringing communal dining through a menu series subscription program to Seattle in an inviting space with wood beamed ceilings, filled with his grandmother’s art. Having worked with technology and startups for some years, Sanford’s Belle Clementine reflects an adventurous business sense paired with his love of communal dining. The response, he notes, has been widely positive. Can you explain the concept behind Belle Clementine?Basically, Belle Clementine is grounded in the philosophy that the shared meal is one of the best ways to bring people together. I find myself thinking in terms of meals even more than food, if I can draw that distinction. The food has to be amazing, it’s part of a meal, but if you think about the whole experience of the meal, about what happens around a big shared table; that really drives us. The fundamental goal is to bring people together through shared meals. The meal series format, which we’ll be launching here at the end of the month, for spring is intended to create a real sense of community. I believe this format will create an environment where you’ll run into some familiar faces because they’re also participating in a meal series, and at the same time, meet some new people. For people looking for that in Seattle, I’m hoping that we’ll deliver on that. Has this concept been a hard sell since you opened? I don’t think it’s been a hard sell at all. The response has been very positive. I’ve had people every night saying, “When are you starting the meal series, we can’t wait to sign up.” We will be doing that starting at the end of the month and that’ll be by seasons. I think it’s reflective of how we do everything anyway. Today is the perfect example. I was just texting with our chicken farmer. They’re down south in Olympia and were hit hardest with snow. They’re a farm, they’re outside, and they have to take care of their animals. It might mean that I get my chickens delivered to me late. The bottom line is that it’s an example of how the seasons impact us all. It only makes sense to me to make a meal series reflective of that. We’ll do lots of programing beyond the meals related to the time of the year and the seasons as well. And the meals are served family style?We primarily serve family style; platters are shared in each of the three tables. We cook one meal a night. With advanced notice, we can always accommodate vegetarians or folks who have common food allergies as long as we know at the time of the reservation. For me, eating communally at a big table, it’s pretty much how I want to eat all the time. I have to remind myself that it’s still a pretty new experience for some people. Typically at the beginning of the night, I’ve taken to letting everyone know what we’ll be serving that evening, explaining the family style format, and reminding everyone to be great tablemates and make sure that the food gets around the table. We’ve all eaten that way. We’ve all had dinner party with friends; we’ve all had dinners at home. So people get it, it’s just a little bit different in the context of people you don’t know, being in a new space. You watch that energy evolve throughout the night where initially they walk in and admittedly, they don’t know what they’re going to be eating or who they’re going to be sitting with but they’ve decided to trust us. I’m grateful that people do, because we put a lot of thought into everything, including physical space and the menu.The meal series will start up soon but at the moment, how is it operating?Anyone can call and make a reservation for a meal. I wanted to give people the opportunity to experience the space and the food, and see what it’s like. We’re by reservation Thursdays through Saturday evenings. Brunch, we take reservations at 10am and 12:30pm. Sunday night reservations are at 6pm. We also do allow brunch walk-ins on a limited basis, if there is space available. We have 3 tables that seat 12 people, that’s all we got. Our whole objective is serving meals together, that’s why we have meal times. We like to seat everybody and serve them a meal at the same time. When I say walk-ins on a limited basis, that’s what I mean. The one thing we’re doing that is not that format is, just because we’re so close to the market, that if they wanted to stop in for hot coffee and a nibble, we have hot coffee and we bake pastries or bread. Last week, we made some candied ginger biscotti and had that available with coffee. Your background includes studying pre-med and a degree in entrepreneurial management. How did you get into the food industry and learn to cook? I was pre-med for my first two years at Stanford. About halfway through, I decided I wanted to pursue my interest for business entrepreneurship. So I created my own program in entrepreneurial management. I realized that this was the place to do startups so maybe I should focus on that for now. So that was the first transition. After college, I worked in technology for a while but in my spare time, was moonlighting in a Bay Area organization called Outstanding In the Field. They put on farm dinners all over the world now, actually. I would go and help with their farm dinners in the Bay Area. They would bring in chef from a local restaurant. I started working in those field kitchens and learning from those chefs. That would lead to stages in some of their restaurants. It’s something I did in the weekends and evenings. Then I went back to Seattle. I had been friends with Matthew Dillon, who is an amazing chef and creative genius. The guy is fantastic. When we came back, we started chatting and talking about what would ultimately become the Corson Building. Can you tell us about your relationship with your grandmother who inspired this space?Nana Belle, she was an amazing woman. She was an artist professionally. I grew up with her art work in my family’s home. She was always inspiring to me from a creative standpoint. Sometimes she would give me a present and the cards were always something she made. We’d go on family vacations and she would take all the photos, and she would turn them into this incredible album, where the cover would be a print of the photo that she took and each page was decorated with different things. I remember when we’d go to her house and we’d arrive, and she lived outside of Chicago and a lot of times we’d go in the winter time and it would be snowy, she always had some snacks for us. It was always so warm, so welcoming. She loved to hostess. She loved to throw parties. I think she would love the idea of the process of bringing this to life, the fact that we created this space from the ground up. I think she would appreciate the ongoing experience of cooking and bringing people together. Her creativity is also what drives the space. We’re going to do some fun arts programming as well. In fact, her artwork is there now. We have some of her pieces there. Tell us about some of her artwork in that you have in the Belle Clementine space. Right when you come in, if you look down the entryway, one of her pieces is highlighted at the end of that hallway. It’s a plaster mold. She did a lot of bronze work, bronze casting. Some of my favorite pieces of her’s were bronze sculptures. The plaster mold that’s hung up on the wall, this was a mold that I found in the archives. It’s of a beautiful tree, I think it’s an oak tree. This was something we found after she had passed away. I’ve never seen the bronze piece so I’m not sure if it’s ever been cast, but I thought that the plaster mold itself was so beautiful in texture that I had to hang it up. There are a couple of her ceramic vases in the space, and we do have a bronze sculpture there entitled “Bistro”. It’s a bistro scene in bronze and that’s on a shelf when you walk in. How did you come to find this space? Did you choose Ballard as a community or did you find the space and go from there? I would say it was more of an organic process. Ballard was on my radar because of its community sensibilities. The thing I love about Ballard and a huge part of why I chose that space is about what I’m trying to do with Belle Clementine. It’s a community-centric idea, so launching it in a place where there is a community aesthetic or philosophy was really important to me. I was walking down the street in Ballard, it was October 2010, and saw a sign in the window saying, “Call Art or Bruce”, so I did. The first time I walked in, I looked up and saw the ceiling. Beautiful old timber ceilings, these fir beams, you don’t see them anymore. It was built out for a different commercial use. I gutted it with the goal of bringing it back to its original character. Now that you’re running your own operation, what would you say was an unexpected challenge or a surprise?I sort of had a sense of how challenging it was going to be, having worked with other restaurants. This is the first restaurant that I’ve built, and being active in construction was amazing. That was hugely important to me and I loved that. We had those construction surprises along the way. It’s something everyone talks about: expect surprises, expect to be delayed. You can intellectually prepare yourself for that, but when it happens, it’s a different experience. We worked through them and got to open when we wanted to get open. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the availability of amazing ingredients. Not really surprised, because we’re really lucky around here. But you know, until today with all the snow, we’ve had a pretty extended season. A lot of the farmers that I work with have been saying, you know we’ve never gotten this far in January before. It’s important for people to know that there are lots of things offered in the winter time.