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The Nineties, part 2

By Ronald Holden

1995 Amanda Bevill opens World Spice Merchants on Western Avenue below the Pike Place Market. With over 200 spices and seasonings, it is a modern day spice bazaar, vibrant and diverse, exploding with flavors from around the globe. There's garam masala for a carrot cake, Arabicbaharat for a rib-eye, bezar for pork chops, cascaba chili oil for Brussels sprouts, African grains of paradise for a creamy peanut soup. If you don't have a grinder at home, the staff will grind small quantities for you. Note: in 2017 the Spice of the Year was turmeric. What's next? Fenugreek? Saffron?

1996 Maria Coassin (photo), who left her hometown in northeast Italy (where her family owned a bakery) when she married an American airman, opens Gelatiamo at what is then a gritty intersection, 3rd & Union; it's the first Italian gelato shop in town. Coassin's father arrives at year's end to bake Seattle's first panettone, Italian Christmas cake.

1996 Alissa Leinonen and two friends open a sandwich shop, Gourmondo, in the Pike Place Market next to Madame Lazonga's tattoo parlor. Leinonen raises her share, $4,000, by refinancing her Jeep Wrangler. An early client is Howard Schultz, who starts using Gourmondo's catering service for Starbucks company meetings. Over the next two decades, Leinonen assumes full ownership and the company becomes the city's largest independent supplier of box lunches to businesses: 10,000 meals a month to 150 locations, including several cafes inside Amazon office buildings.

1997 An online food delivery business called HomeGrocer.com is launched not by a traditional grocery store but by four techies operating out of a 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Bellevue. Over $400 million in funding comes from smart investors (Jeff Bezos, Martha Stewart) and leading venture capital funds (Kleiner Perkins, Liberty Media). The concept enjoys enthusiastic support from customers (over $1 million a day in orders), expands to 16 warehouses nationwide, and floats a $288 million IPO. But in 2000, strapped for cash, it is bought out by competitor Webvan, which goes broke a year later.

1997 Allrecipes.com is launched in Seattle by internet entrepreneur Tim Hunt. It grows quickly by encouraging readers to submit their own recipes. It is sold to Readers Digest in 2006, then acquired by Meredith ( Better Homes & Gardens) for $120 million. Today, headquartered in offices overlooking Westlake Center, it is the internet's largest online source of information about food and cooking. With 19 sites in 13 languages, Allrecipes.com gets 1.5 billion site visits a year. (Because of the city's polyglot workforce, the company is able to manage all the international sites from Seattle.) The most downloaded recipes: in the US, meatloaf; in France, leg of lamb; in India, chicken kebab.

1997 David Lee (photo), a baker in Seattle, borrows $10,000 from his stockbroker brother, Richard, and opens Field Roast Grain Meat Company. The company manufactures grain-based "meats" and vegan cheeses, using Lee's experience as a chef to blend bold flavorings (mustard, spices) into the vegan fare. He also starts Common Meals to train homeless people as cooks; it becomes the widely admired FareStart program. In 2018, Lee gets an offer he does not refuse: he sells Field Roast to a Canadian competitor for $120 million. His brother is both proud and happy.

1998 An outfit called One Reel Vaudeville Show, which produces Bumbershoot, a summer festival at Seattle Center, erects its Spiegeltent, an intimate, bejeweled circus venue with a wooden frame, canvas, and mirrors, across from the Opera House; they call it Teatro ZinZanni. It seats 285 for dinner and a show. They hire celebrity chef Tom Douglas to supervise the kitchen. When the opera needs the land for its own expansion, ZinZanni moves out, first to Marymoor Park, then to a permanent home in the empty Redhook Brewery in Woodinville. The food service is currently supervised by celebrity chef Jason Wilson.

1999 After a successful run as manager of rock music bands in Europe,Charles Smith settles in Seattle and starts K Vintners as well as Magnificent Wine Company (which he sells to Precept in 2007). In 2016 he sells his 200,000-case label, Charles Smith, to Constellation Brands for $120 million but retains four other labels that continue to produce five million bottles a year.

1999 Boeing engineer Armandino Batali, father of (disgraced) celebrity chef Mario Batali, spends the first year of his retirement in the Tuscan village of Panzano-in-Chianti as an apprentice to the local butcher, Dario Cecchini. (Truth be told, Cecchini is Italy's most famous butcher; he sings arias from Italian operas as he works.) Batali returns to Seattle and opens Salumi, an artisan delicatessen, in Pioneer Square. In late 2017, the family sells the business to Martinique Grigg and Clara Veniard, partners in a new investment firm called Grant Peak Capital. This allows them to expand production and national distribution. Gina Batali, Armo's daughter, remains a minority owner.

1999 Eric Banh, who had fled Vietnam 20 years earlier and settled in Canada, joins his sister, Sophie, in Seattle. Together they open Monsoon, serving "modern Vietnamese" dishes on Capitol Hill, to be followed by Ba Bar, where the menu promises "Street Food." Their mother arrives to train the Latino cooks in details of Vietnamese cuisine. In due course, the siblings open a second Monsoon in Bellevue, two more Ba Bar parlors in Seattle, plus a venture into steak (Seven Beef) that has since morphed into a barbecue concept called Central Smoke.

Photo of Eric Banh courtesy of Ronald Holden

If you missed part one of The Nineties, read it here.

February 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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