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The Nineties

By Ronald Holden

1990 After two decades, Gérard Parrat closes his country inn in Bothell, the Relais de Lyon, and joins Dominique Place, chef at the Crèpe de Paris, in a venture they call Gerard & Dominique to sell premium smoked salmon to demanding chefs around the country. In 2008, the company becomes part of SeaBear, a specialty distributor which also owns the Made in Washington stores.

1990 Tim Gilday starts Encore, a second-hand equipment business for the restaurant industry. An honest scavenger, he buys whatever isn't nailed down from restaurants that are going out of business, takes it back to his shop in SoDo, where it's repaired or polished up and resold (at a reasonable price) to the next hopeful restaurateur. Just down the street is Ajax Appliance, perhaps the only place left for restaurant owners to get professional equipment repaired.

1991 Three socially conscious activists, David Foecke, Gracie Close, and Scott Glascock, who want to move "vegetarian" beyond its preachy platform of political correctness, start Cafe Flora; they envision a restaurant that is "community-based, using local and organic ingredients whenever possible, and fully, ambitiously vegetarian." They find their space in an old laundromat in Madison Valley. After 15 years, the founders sell to Nat Stratton-Clark, an English gent who had spent a lot of time in kitchens while growing up in California.

Cafe Flora's black bean burger

1992 Lynnwood brothers James and John Schmidt launch Taco Del Mar, a franchise-owned chain featuring Mexican cuisine with a coastal influence. It grows to more than 100 locations in the U.S. and Canada before filing for bankruptcy protection in 2010. It is bought by Franchise Brands (parent company of Subway) later that year and sold to High Bluff Capital Partners, a San Diego investment company in 2018. High Bluff, known as a turnaround specialist, also owns Quiznos.

1992 Thierry Rautureau, a native of western France, arrives in Seattle and buys Rover's, a house-restaurant in Madison Valley started by the former headmaster at Bush School, which quickly becomes one of Seattle's most elegant dinner houses. A block away he opens Luc, named for his father, a more convivial neighborhood bistro. Meantime the franchise owners of Seattle's biggest hotel, the downtown Sheraton, recruit him to open a showcase restaurant. The result is Loulay, a glamorous, mahogany and marble, two-level extravaganza that is named Seattle Met's 2014 Restaurant of the Year.

Chef in the Hat

1992 Some 21 years after opening its first shop in the Pike Place Market, Starbucks goes public. At the IPO, there are still only 140 stores; today there are 27,000 worldwide. A $10,000 investment in SBUX at the IPO would be worth over $2 million today.

1992 With the end of the Cold War in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, baker Vladimir Kotelnikov and his family emigrate from Estonia. Now, just three years later, he opens Piroshky Piroshky in the Pike Place Market. The tiny stand sells savory, hand-held Russian pastries (stuffed with meat, cheese, potatoes, and smoked salmon), and is wildly popular. His son Oliver, who had contributed his $2,000 savings from moving lawns, ran the company with his wife Olga Sagan for years; he eventually sold it to her after they divorced and she continues to run the company today.

1992 Charles Lill , a refugee from Europe who had prospered in Seattle selling insurance, finally receives compensation from the German government for property the Nazis had confiscated from his family. He turns around and invests the money in eastern Washington vineyards and a winery in Woodinville. Co-founders of DeLille Cellars are his son Greg, Chris Upchurch (a wine buyer for Larry's Markets) and Jay Soloff (a sommelier and wine broker).

1993 Hamburgers contaminated by E. coli bacteria sicken 450 and kill three children across Western Washington. The outbreak is traced to meat from a California supplier that has been improperly prepared by local Jack in the Box stores. Seattle attorney Bill Marler represents the most seriously injured of the survivors, wins a landmark $15.6 settlement, and goes on to national prominence as a plaintiff's attorney in food safety cases.

1993 The operator of a couple of small movie theaters and owner of a Häagen Dazs franchise, Chris Curtis, starts the University District Farmers Market to give local farmers a direct-to-consumer outlet for their produce. The single location grows into the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance with half a dozen farmers markets, and even inspires a rival group heavy on arts & crafts. Today the city has about two dozen neighborhood markets, several of them year-round, which contribute immeasurably to the quality of life in Seattle. Curtis retires in 2018.

Chris Curtis, courtesy of Front Porch, washington.edu

1993 Seattle Gourmet Foods , then named Frederick's Fine Chocolates, is incorporated in Kent. It has one customer, a popular Seattle department store (no longer in business), for which the company makes a well-known chocolate confection (see 1918 if you need a hint). Over the years, SGF drops its original client as it takes over a dozen small candy manufacturers.

1993 Judy Fu , born in the Chinese city of Tsing Tao and raised in Taiwan, who has worked in Seattle kitchens for two decades to support herself while raising two children, opens a tiny restaurant called Snappy Dragon in the Maple Leaf neighborhood. The specialties are hand-rolled noodles and jiao-zi (boiled dumplings), considered the best outside the International District. Though the focus is takeout, it is voted Seattle's best Chinese restaurant for 9 of the past 10 years.

1994 Last call at the Dog House. Founded half a century earlier by Bob Murray and Laurie Gulbransen with the slogan "All Roads Lead to the Dog House," it offers food and drink 24 hours a day at 7 th & Bell Street, the southern end of what Murray called the Aurora Speedway. In its place comes the Hurricane Cafe, which lasts another 20 years before it, too, closes shop. The new landlord, Amazon.com, needs the real estate for another office building.

1994 Dina Campion, who manages Starbucks stores in southern California (all ten of them at the time), convinces headquarters that the company needs to add a cold beverage to its coffee lineup. In summer, at least. In southern California, at least. One of her former store managers, Bill Moore, who works at headquarters in Seattle, agrees to a test at a single store in the San Fernando Valley. Meantime, Starbucks acquires Coffee Connection in Boston, which has a slushy frozen drink on its menu. It is the Frappuccino, and when Starbucks rolls it out in 23 markets the following summer (only two flavors, coffee and mocha), it sells 200,000 drinks the first week, then 400,000, then 800,000. It becomes a mainstay of the Starbucks lineup, accounting for 11 percent of summer sales.

Photos courtesy of Ronald Holden unless otherwise noted

Stay tuned for part two of The Nineties in our February issue.

January 2019


Ronald Holden is a Northwest native who's been writing about local food for over 40 years. His latest book, the second edition of Forking Seattle, is available on Amazon.com ( paperback here , kindle version here ). He blogs at ForkingSeattle.com .


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