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October wine dinner


Gather Kitchen & Bar

Seriously, a place to gather


A new restaurant in Ballard may not seem to be big news lately, since it's become such a foodie haven. But Gather has a slightly different take on things that's worth checking out.

"We're working on doing this effectively, since we just opened on October 5, but our goal is to bring people around a dining table like my family. We always had big family events; food was central. We want people to sit and share an experience. They order dishes, we course them, everyone shares while conversing. When it's busy, that hum gets going and there's a lot of energy in the restaurant. That's what we want. I want to give well-prepared food to people in a fun and energetic environment," explains Chef/Owner Ryan Donaldson.

The look is a bit of fusion: Northwest contemporary/French and Basque bistro, subway tiles, chalkboards, warm lighting, and black-and-white-checked drapes at floor-to-ceiling windows. The squid mural on the tiles was painted by Ryan's sister, Carrie Wine. "My wife and I were in Spain and just loved the feel of the places we ate." That trip also helped inspire the Gather menu. "It's Northwest seasonal, farm-to-table cuisine with international influences," says Ryan. With small and large plates, guests have plenty of options. They can choose to have their own plate, or share away. Small plates make a wonderful, diverse meal, veering from crudo to oysters to fried cauliflower. Large plates range from gnocchi to Arctic char to rack of lamb. Chef Ryan sources seasonal, sustainable, and local as much as possible, which means frequent menu changes. There is also weekend brunch.

"My great grandfather grew his own vegetables and I remember picking peas and carrots, shaking the dirt off, maybe rinsing them, and eating them. That was always dear to me. There are so many good reasons for sourcing organic and local things, but the bottom line to me is that you're getting the best product. If something's harvested one day and I have it the next, I'm going to feel good about what I'm giving people. One of the hardest things about having your own restaurant is that I like to cook things that I would enjoy eating. But it's not my job to push an agenda; this is about hospitality. You have to allow people to have the experience they want to have."

At his first restaurant, The Stone House in Redmond, he had grass fed beef on the menu in 2010-2011. "They didn't go for it. The beef I buy now is sometimes grass fed, and it's almost always pasture raised. My biggest thing is no corn. If beef isn't finished on grass, then it's finished on spent grain. Our goal is to work with purveyors who do things the way we like."

Ryan has had plenty of time to figure out how he likes to do things. In high school, he was into sports until he blew his knee out. Not able to work out, he became "antsy," to the point his parents told him he really had to do something. He got a job at the Crocodile Café in Bellevue Square in 1995. "I spent a couple of years there as the grill cook and did all the jobs there, and loved the fast pace and camaraderie. I found in the kitchen what I'd lost in sports. I went to Schwartz Bros. Cucina! Cucina! as a pizza cook. My sister was a host there and got my foot in the door. I became the lead cook from 1996-1999. From that point, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I stepped out of the kitchen at the Redmond Cucina! Cucina! for six months on the floor and a year behind the bar. It helped me understand the other side of things."

In 1999, Ryan attended the Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central Community College. "While in school, I worked at Sazerac. I was trying to find the right place for me." He decided to attend the School of Hospitality and Business Management at WSU and get his Bachelor's Degree. "I was there 18 months, motivated to move on, so I doubled up credits each semester." In addition, he worked at Swilly's in Pullman. He was recruited by Marriott and moved to a JW Marriott Resort in Tucson to be the Food and Beverage Manager. "I spent a year managing the three-meal-a-day restaurant. I knew I wanted to be back in the kitchen, so I became the assistant banquet chef, and then a year later the chef de cuisine for the resort. That put me in charge of all six outlets. I stayed in that position for two years. I liked their management philosophy: take care of your employees and they'll take care of your guests."

After five years at the resort, he wanted to come home. "Corporate life really wasn't my thing and I wanted to be near family and water. I came back here with Marriott but within a few months, I'd found the cottage in Redmond, and opened The Stone House in the fall of 2008. By June, the economy had tanked. The first 4-6 months were very scary. By the following spring/summer, we came out of it." He got married and had kids and worried about supporting them. Go back to a more structured environment? Fortunately, some customers/friends pushed him to open a second restaurant. They put together a business plan, and now we have Gather. "I always liked Ballard and grew up here. When we met with the people who own this building, we felt like it was more of a relationship and less of landlord/tenant."

As for the future, it's all about getting Gather just right. "It's not about me or my food, it's about crafting an experience for you. You come out for a reason, whether it's to eat or catch up with someone. At Gather, you get to create your own coursed experience, or you can leave it to us."

Gather Kitchen & Bar 5605 22nd Ave NW (in the Commons Building)
Seattle, WA 98107

Connie Adams/January 2018

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