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Café to Café


Restaurant March�

Greg Atkinson gets his own kitchen

Most of us don't get (or make) the opportunity to create our dream job. Greg Atkinson, local chef/author/educator, feels that his entire career has led him to opening his own restaurant. His passion for food and cooking has taken him down many paths, but cooking in his own kitchen feels just right.

Timing is everything. The owners of the building his restaurant will be in on Bainbridge Island approached him eight years ago. "I really wanted to do it, but the timing wasn't right," Greg recalls. "I wasn't ready. Now I've just turned 50. Our oldest son just graduated from college and our younger son will graduate from high school this year. My wife Betsy and I decided it was now or never if we wanted to own our own business." Betsy will maintain her real estate business on the island and have an unofficial role as proprietor at the restaurant, present at staff meetings and lending support during service. Her background includes doing restaurant accounts for an accounting firm, wine sales and managing a restaurant dining room on San Juan Island.

Greg Atkinson in front of March�'s construction zone

The name March� comes from their adjacent position to the farmers market on Bainbridge and the fact that Greg has always loved the 20th century French trend of "cuisine du march�," cooking what the market offers. Market restaurants served local food to shoppers and vendors. "That's what we want to do here," he explains. "We'll use local purveyors and local food in its own season. It will be a small, fairly casual place serving Northwest food with a French accent. In some ways, we're recreating a restaurant Betsy and I worked at in Friday Harbor called Caf� Bissett. It was a small country French restaurant. We loved the place and I think some of my best cooking happened there. It had 36 seats. March� will seat 48 plus deck seating for 24." And just to set the record straight, he had the name in place before Campagne changed its name to march� bistro and wine bar. It's been discussed and both places have chosen to keep the name.

Restaurant March�
150 Madrone Lane
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

Opening January 2012

Driven by seasons and region, March� will offer French bistro standards like French onion soup, a soup of the day, steak frites and coq au vin. Chicken and grass-fed beef will come from Skagit River Ranch, eggs from an island farm; local farmers are saving onions, garlic and potatoes for Greg since he's opening in the dead of winter. Heyday Farms will have three of six pigs ready when the restaurant opens. "We're in negotiations with Gina Batali to hang hams for prosciutto-style ham." The menu will also include a shellfish platter and oysters on the half shell. They will bake their own bread using local flour. "We want the menus, food and wine, to be accessible," says Greg. "Menus are easy to understand and two people can have a full meal with cocktails or wine for $100."

March� will have a full bar, serving modern hand-crafted versions of classic cocktails. For example, their Sidecar will use their own citrus-infused liquor. Count on Manhattans made with their own bitters, and martinis. Greg has help with the wine list from Master Sommelier Shayn Bjornholm, formerly of the Washington Wine Commission and Canlis (where Greg was Executive Chef). "We've devised a list that is 50% Northwest and 50% French so the menu and wine list match. We'll organize the list so that people aren't overwhelmed; they can figure it out in a glance. Twenty-five to thirty reds and the same number of whites will be organized first by intensity of flavor (big and bold, light and refreshing) with 5-6 in each category. Within those categories, they will be listed by price. Most wines will be $40 and under."

"Accessibility is key. Guests should feel restored, not challenged or intimidated. While I love to experiment with innovative techniques, I want to use those to make the food better. Having lived on Bainbridge for 15 years, I understand the clientele. They're kind of adventurous, but want some familiarity as well."

Color schemes reflect the Northwest. "After we committed to this decision, Betsy and I took a walk on the Dungeness Spit for our anniversary and took photos of the beach and interesting things. Seat cover colors include corals and greens found in seaweed, the concrete floor color is reminiscent of sand on the beach when a wave washes out, and the painted woodwork is dark green like kelp. We even matched paint samples to dried grasses." They found reproductions of 19th century seed company posters of vegetables sold at a stand in Paris to hang on dining room walls (photo). "Each year a new poster was created and they've now been reproduced using techniques from that era. Our colors are Northwest and these posters tie in France as well as farmers markets. Vegetables are very important to me. My cuisine is vegetable-centric. I love fruits and vegetables. You'll see that on the menu as spring rolls around."

A raised roof will allow windows to flood the room with light, brick walls have had seismic upgrades, there will be beautiful custom casework and a retail cabinet to show off the spice blends and condiments he makes, uses in his dishes and sells to people for home consumption (like onion marmalade and lavender jelly). Upholstered banquets join tables in the front dining room, a private room seats up to eight and the bar has seven bar seats with room for a table or two. Counter seats allow guests to watch the kitchen action. "It's a small kitchen. I'll be there all the time and will have a sous chef, pantry cook and dishwasher."

Blueprints showing March�'s look from all sides

Greg's dream has come true. He wanted to build his own place from the ground up and get in the kitchen full-time. "If I could dine out, where would I go? This is that place." That's good enough for us.

All photos courtesy of Greg Atkinson

Connie Adams/December 2011

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