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Café to Café

Serafina and Cicchetti

The magic continues

Susan Kaufman opened Serafina, country Italian, in 1991, and Cicchetti, Venetian tapas bar, in 2009. Her focus on great food; a staff that feels like, no, is, family; and a welcoming atmosphere turned both into instant and long-lasting successes. We lost Susan to cancer in July 2016. What's happening with the restaurants and family she left behind? It's all good.

Besides leaving great restaurants in place, Susan ensured their survival. Her board owns 70% of the restaurant (it includes an accounting firm, friend, and cousin). She gifted a 10% ownership to GM David Weeks (left), and a 20% ownership to Chef Christian Chandler (right). Long-time staffers Sommelier Salomon Navarro, Executive Sous Chef Landon Moore, Beverage Director Chris Bollenbacher, and Assistant GM Kelley Kieser help steer the course in the direction Susan intended. "Kelley has been here roughly five years," says David. "Susan had some very clear no-fly zones and Kelley has helped guide me through those. We want to be true to her wishes while maintaining sustainability." David was hired in February of 2016 after numerous interviews with Susan who always looked at how people would fit in with her vision and existing staff. "I got to know her through that hiring process, and we watched each other when I first came on board." David's background includes Pacific Inn Pub, and 13 years with Tom Douglas, as a server from 2002-2008 at Palace Kitchen, and 2008-2013 in management at various venues. He has worked at Inn at Langley and helped open Westward, staying until 2015. Christian has been part of the family off and on for 10 years, starting in 2005, leaving for two years and returning to the fold.

"One thing I love that was so important to her was the familial aspect, the culture of the restaurants. From the get-go, I understood how important staffing is to the guest experience. It almost moves me to tears when I see regulars come in, so happy to see the staff and just to be here. I understand what Susan built and I work to maintain it with current staff and groom new employees."

There have been some changes. "Susan and I spoke freely about updating things. She could be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud about it. She would say 'if it's not broken…' but after 25 years, things do need to be refreshed. We need to remain relevant in a changing industry. A lot of that is aesthetics. Some of those changes she gave the go-ahead to, others not so much," David laughs. Cicchetti has some new wall color (photo) and a few tables are soon to be replaced. Serafina's dining room is getting an update as well. "The live music piece at Serafina was a mainstay for years. From a business standpoint, it wasn't doing what was intended. Originally, it set us apart. Now it's an expense that isn't really a draw. We're toying with some music ideas that are more controllable, and promote music without making it a priority.

"Cicchetti is not all that visible being behind Serafina on the side street. We've talked about how to make it more visible from Eastlake Avenue. Susan was always DIY-how can we do things ourselves? We've added party lights to the Cicchetti patio on Boston Street to try and draw the eye. Boosting visibility for Cicchetti in numerous ways is my focus this year. It deserves more attention than it gets; it's a great drop-in, neighborhood spot. Both the food and cocktail menus are top notch. Christian and Landon have worked hard to get here. We've made the menu a little easier to read so people understand what size plates are: shareable, mains, etc. We also want people to better understand what Cicchetti is. The original Venetian tapas bars served seafood that was either caught that day or was being shipped from other places-they were melting pots of ingredients from around the world. We're moving our bar from a culinary stand point toward that original idea, serving foods influenced by North Africa, Greece, Turkey, Italy."

Serafina was always meant to be approachable both food- and atmosphere-wise, with dishes that are affordable. "It's not a special-occasion restaurant, although it's a great place for a special occasion. But we want it to be a regular spot for people, and cultivate new diners. We have a lot of regulars after 25 years: one couple stopped in while Susan was working on things before opening. They are still coming twice a week. We'd like to introduce younger diners to both places and get the Amazonians to realize it's a $5 Uber ride from South Lake Union." Chris Bollenbacher creates cocktail classes to bring new people in, but there are only 20 spaces and many of the same people return. They may increase the number of classes this year. Salomon Navarro heads up retail wine events four times a year. They offer occasional cooking classes, 4-6 times per year. Other events include wine dinners and annual events like St. Martin's Feast, plus Easter and Mother's Day brunches. Sunday brunch and patio season coincide. Dates and times can be found on their website.

Bottom line, "It's business as usual at the compound," says David. "We're keeping on the right path, pleasing guests with great food and a great experience."

2043 Eastlake Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102

121 E Boston St
Seattle, WA 98102

Connie Adams/May 2017

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