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Bell + Whete European Kitchen & Lounge

The latest from Marcus Charles

Beyond the fact that all Marcus' enterprises have a strong beverage identity, they're quite an eclectic group of businesses. If you hear he's at it again, you can count on him heading in a new direction. His latest, Bell + Whete fits that mold.

"The concept grew out of this neighborhood, which we think is underserved. It's a multi-national neighborhood," Marcus explains. "We have Local 360 a block away, but are restricted by our use of products within a 360 mile radius. So the Bell + Whete concept was meant to play off Local by offering international beers and spirits. We offer local spirits, but sometimes someone wants Tanquerey. We have 30 different gins, mostly European, and 66 different beers, 20+ of those are local. They rotate; we're looking at Asian and Australian beers."

Photo: Marcus with Whete

Food-wise, they wanted to go back to basics: what goes great with beer, gin, wine? "We didn't want to be pigeon-holed as one thing. The Normans tied it all together; they conquered Sicily, North Africa, the British Isles and parts of France. Now everyone has a version of the same thing: schnitzel in one place is sausage in another, our house flatbread is bannock. We wanted this place to be a European kitchen and lounge offering European comfort food, for lack of a better term." They also offer a private dining room and weekend brunch.

Photo courtesy of Bell + Whete: tour de viande

Marcus started working at his uncle's Italian restaurant in Tacoma before sixth grade and continued through high school. While attending the University of Washington (speech/communications degree), he worked in the kitchen at Anthony's Shilshole. During his senior year, he needed a few more credits, so he and the general manager created a management internship with him as the assistant dining room manager. "I think I was the first and last person in that program," laughs Marcus.

It was 1997 and he decided if he was going to stay in the business, he'd better open his own sooner rather than later. "There was a space available in Pioneer Square, so I started Marcus' Martini Heaven, a sandwich shop and small bar. Martinis got really big and the movie Swingers was huge. The sandwich part just went away. At that time, the internet wasn't what it is now and we did a lot of library research to create martini recipes. Eventually we had about 50 different cocktails. A lot of artists and musicians hung out there, but as lofts turned into offices, they started moving to Capitol Hill. We basically followed them in 1999. I found a space for rent, the former Safari, and opened the original Bad JuJu Lounge, a drinking bar. It was successful right out of the gate."

Photo courtesy of Bell + Whete: Bloody Mary

Around 2001, Dave Meinert and Marcus took over the Capitol Hill Block Party. "It took place in front of Bad JuJu, there were no stages and just a few bands. Jen left for New York and a couple of other women took it over, but were happy for us to take it after a year. "We created legitimate stage areas and festival accoutrements. We had it for 11 years before selling to Jason Lajeunesse who still owns it."

In 2001, he opened Jack's Road House on Capitol Hill, his first food-focused restaurant. "It just didn't work," recalls Marcus. "There were parking issues and it was a 24-hour café." He closed it in 2003. Around that time, he opened Neumos, his first bar/music venue. Food was not the focus. Then in 2005, he, Jerry Everard and Jonathan Sposato opened Spitfire.

"In 2006, I had a mini-mid-life crisis," says Marcus. "I'd had ten years of late nights, and openings every 18 months. I sold all my businesses except the Block Party. I got my MBA at the UW with the idea of going into lifestyle brand marketing. When I graduated in 2008, there were no jobs in that field as those were the first folks to go. I started a new JuJu on Second Ave (now transformed into a medical marijuana access point, which is a whole different story) and thought I could run that, the Block Party and get a corporate job. Then Stephanie Dorgan approached me about buying the Crocodile Café. I thought about it for 3-4 weeks. I'm good at identifying and accomplishing goals. I knew if I ended up doing the Croc, that corporate job goal was never going to get accomplished. Ultimately, I decided that I would stay an entrepreneur and not make that corporate goal a reality."

Photo courtesy of Bell + Whete: bar

His decision was to come back into the hospitality industry full time, but in a different way. "Until Neumos and Spitfire, I'd never had partners. I just maxed out credit cards and got loans from family. After 2008, I found investors and that took some of the stress off. If I do the best for myself, I'll be doing the best for my equity partners. And I don't take money from people who can't walk away from it." In January 2011, Marcus opened Local 360. "Sustainability means different things to different people. For me it means supporting the micro-economies of local economies. All things being fairly equal, wouldn't you rather buy from a neighbor?"

In 2012, Marcus became a 40 Under 40 Honoree-an award the Puget Sound Business Journal confers on younger business professionals.

In 2014, he opened Bell + Whete European Kitchen & Lounge. "Our price point is about the same as Local, but it's a more refined space. It's a challenge because 2nd Ave is different than 1st. There's less foot traffic. I'm never really done decorating or completing the entire business model when I've opened; I'm still figuring out how to finish it. Owners have control over about 60% of a place. How consumers choose to use it is the rest. If you listen to your customers, you're usually okay. For instance, we have a great burger at Local and I didn't want one at Bell + Whete. But people kept asking so we put one on the menu that is totally different from Local's, but still a great burger featuring French cheese, bone marrow and frisee. It sold 20 the first day."

Photo courtesy of Bell + Whete: booths overlooking 2nd Avenue

Bell + Whete European Kitchen + Lounge
200 Bell St
Seattle, WA 98121
(206) 538-0180

Photo courtesy of Bell + Whete: seafood stew

Local 360 Café & Bar
2234 1st Ave
Seattle, WA 98121



Connie Adams/January 2015

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