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JBF Taste of America


Ted Furst

A restaurant life, part 3

Ted Furst met Tom Lavaris, COO of Schwartz Brothers. "They were looking for an executive chef for the company. It was so different in scale than what I'd done. They spent more on coffee than we made in a year at Campagne. They had the Butcher, Benjamin's, Henry's Off Broadway. They wanted a new concept and we created Chandler's in 1987, then in 1988 we did the first Cucina! Cucina! We had 7-8 restaurants; by the time I left it was 22 kitchens and 10 concepts, and 700 kitchen employees. Everything I know I learned from that job. They were fantastic, honorable, straight-shooting people. I worked closely with John Schwartz, and did R&D trips together. They purchased Café Casino in the Rainier Tower on 5th Avenue. It had a real bakery with rotating ovens. At that point, we had two Cucinas and each was making its own baked goods and desserts. So we started Schwartz Brothers Bakery. John knew Howard Schultz of Starbucks. There were about 40 locations then, all in Seattle. He gave Schwartz Brothers his pastry business and they had it locally until about five years ago. The original baker at Schwartz was replaced by Cathy Conner who had a French bakery in Pike Place Market."

Chandler's photo courtesy of Schwartz Bros.

Schwartz decided to spin off Cucina! Cucina! as a separate company and go nationwide. "None of us had the experience to do that, so we looked for a new COO, and hired someone very dynamic. He and I were like oil and water. The concept was making piles of money and everything was made from scratch. He decided scratch wouldn't work in an expansion. I left in 1995 as they really expanded. On top of changing the food, they made some bad real estate decisions and they sold the concept."

Ted wanted some down time, but people kept calling for help. "I started my own consulting business which I had for 15 years. I liked it because it's challenging and engaging. It's like having a box of puzzle pieces that need to go in the right places. The hours were much better and the money was good. I got divorced. The baker from Schwartz, Cathy, moved to France and learned to do wall finishings. I had started to date again and took someone to the opening of Stars at Pacific Place. Cathy was there and we said hello. I had a client who wanted desserts made to look like sushi. I suggested that perhaps Cathy could consult on the dessert project. A friend of the client knew Cathy as well. He took us to dinner (a sushi place, natch) to discuss it, then left us alone. That's when love struck, 1998, and we're still together." While consulting, Ted sometimes worked with Arnold Shain (Arnold had been the marketing director at Schwartz when Cucina! started, and subsequently became a very successful restaurant consultant.

Cathy Conner

When Ted turned 50, he wasn't sure he wanted to continue consulting. "You really have nothing to sell because you're the asset. I wasn't young and soon people want the hot new consultant. And I was worried about burning out. You solve the same set of problems over and over. It gets repetitive for you, but it's so important for your clients. "I decided to open a restaurant and had a concept in mind: a modern oyster bar. Then Renee Erickson did it. Arnold's wife Constance is a commercial real estate broker and she called to tell me a place at Carillon Point was opening (the former location of both a BluWater Bistro and Cucina! Cucina!). I didn't want to be on the Eastside, I live on Capitol Hill and wanted to be there or downtown. My system so far is to look at a space and decide what wants to be there. You can have a great concept, but it must fit the space. Originally, I wanted to do something more downscale, along the lines of Café Presse. But the space needed something a little more upscale and people said they'd been waiting for something genuine and not corporate. It's evolved into a great place on the water where hordes of people come in the summer, and one of the few outposts of real food on the Eastside, with good value for the quality. We make everything from scratch except catsup, mustard, and cheese.

"I've known a lot of people who have had successful restaurants and made no money because it all goes to landlords and investors. You have to be very careful about the deals you make going in. I had investors for Le Grand, but bought them out as soon as I could. Le Grand is the culmination of everything I've learned, but it's still teaching me things-you have to be willing to keep your eyes open and pay attention."

Ted feels that in Seattle, you get rewarded for longevity. "You can coast for awhile, but you want to avoid that. You have to keep pushing at the edges. It's a balance. I learned at Schwartz that it's difficult to make dramatic change all at once. You need to bridge the old and new, including staff."

Ted has three more years on his lease for Le Grand, plus a 10-year option. "That's longer than I personally want to be here," he laughs. "I don't know what I'll do yet. One option is to sell to the management team. Restaurant managers often don't have the capital to get their own place, so if you set it up so they can buy you out, you have an income stream, and they have a restaurant. You want to keep good people and one way to do that is to give them a path upward. That sometimes means opening another place. I wouldn't do another Le Grand, it's too complicated. I'm thinking a basement with no windows, so there will be no fights over window booths. I'm not desperate to do something else, but if the right space appears…"

Le Grand Bistro Américain
2220 Carillon Point
Kirkland, WA 98033
425-828-7778
www.bistrolegrand.com

Click here to read part 1 of this story

Click here to read part 2 of this story

Connie Adams/September 2017


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