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13 Coins

Respectful change

If you don't have a strong memory of 13 Coins, you're probably under 10 or new to the city. Opened in 1967, it was Seattle's only 24-hour, fine dining restaurant. Another rarity: in these 51 years, the Coins has had only three owners. When Jim Ward, the original owner, passed away, his wife kept the Boren Ave location, opened Sea-Tac in 1976, Anchorage in 1979 (now closed), and a new concept in New Orleans in 1979. She lost it all in bankruptcy. Jeanne Boyce Jones and her family purchased the two Seattle 13 Coins and ran them from 1981-2006. A group of investors/owners purchased the restaurants.

Boren location exterior (now closed)

When Howard McQuaid came to Al Moscatel (Thomasville, Urban Interiors, Urban Design + Development, Tailored to the Trade) to see if he would be an investor, he replied 'No! I want to be an owner.' Apparently, he is a man who needs no sleep (and rarely eats breakfast or lunch). His interest didn't come out of the air. When he was young, his father ran the family furniture business on First Avenue, selling during the day and delivering at night. They would go to the Seattle Furniture Market (now the Seattle Design Center) to buy; it was next to 13 Coins. They would go there for meetings with furniture reps. As he grew up, his sleeping habits didn't improve, and he spent late nights there. "It played a big part in my life," Al says. "Even now, the sheets they used to use for wait lists are the sheets I use for my to do lists. I'm an old-school kind of guy and still use paper. I believe a hand shake is a hand shake and the truth is the truth. Howard and I put someone in charge to run the two restaurants because we had no experience. It didn't work, so we basically flipped a coin to see what each of us would take on. I got operations, he does some operations, leases and negotiations. Ann Mei Huie is also an owner. She has worked with us in the furniture business for 25 years and is an incredible comptroller."

They had the benefit of working with Jeanne Boyce Jones, the second owner. "Jeannie really took us under her wing. We did not understand what we bought and what it meant to Seattle. It's an extremely detailed, employee-driven business. There was great loyalty both ways and we had to win that loyalty and trust before we could make changes. A 24-hour business is very difficult. If I were starting a restaurant, I would never start with 24 hours. But it is the beauty and heart of this business and we wanted to honor that legacy. When we remodeled the Boren location, we didn't put coins in the table tops. I thought there was going to be a riot!"

Two opportunities arose for expansion: Pioneer Square at the site of the new Embassy Suites, and Bellevue near the Hyatt Regency. Bellevue was the first new location in 40 years when it opened in 2015. "We didn't open Bellevue properly. Loyal guests came, gave us feedback, and a few weeks later, nothing had changed. I truly believe that to be successful, you have to fail. That's how you learn and improve. We all make mistakes, we just need to know how to correct them. We're now in a good place in Bellevue. We're creating private event space for up to 100. And, in Bellevue only, we will take reservations for all size parties. We want to be true to the brand yet stay current. In Bellevue, people won't come if they don't know they have a seat. At all our locations, reservations are taken for parties of six or more."

The Lower Quarters in Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square opened in March 2018. It has two floors, kitchens upstairs and down, and the ability to seat up to 250 for private events. Downstairs has an area they use for live music and will look for other opportunities, like stand-up comedy. They may do hot boxes with 2-3 items outside on game days. "We find that we need to simplify. Being 24 hours complicates things, so when you start adding things, it gets out of control. It's difficult to communicate changes to staff and get everyone on the same page in a 24-hour cycle."

Sea-Tac's Pacific Room (below)

A lesson learned from Boren was that they needed larger booths. Restaurants now have booths that will seat up to 6-8. Sea-Tac has been refurbished and has two new private event rooms that will seat up to 100. "By September 1, the physical part of keeping current should be done," explains Al. "Then we really focus on menu, customer service, and execution."

One of the biggest trust builders with employees was when they committed to them they would not be out of work for even one day as Boren closed and Pioneer Square opened. They covered that transition, but it was 60 days. "We said we would take care of people and we did."

Expo stations have been installed to make life easier for cooks and servers. "We've always put the plates as they're finished into a long line along the counter where servers pick them up. We get so busy that there isn't enough room for all the dishes, plus there are no heat lamps above them, so food can cool. This system will take care of that problem. These kinds of things cost money but create trust. You have to put yourself in others' positions and see what they deal with every day." In July, Al did a 24-hour shift, working in each position for an hour-and-a-half to fully understand what happens each day. "I'm willing to listen and learn. Now I feel I've listened and we have good people around us, so we need to execute on what we've found." While they plan to evolve the menu and portion size, they always want to stay true to the legacy and value 13 Coins has always represented.

For now, Al is saying no to more expansion. "13 Coins will be here for a long time. We're very proud of the senior leadership team we've put together, which is enabling us to handle our growth. We need to do the right things now, and when we have it right, we can look at options. Our goal is to treat everyone (guests and staff) with respect, and honor the 13 Coins legacy. If we do the right thing, it will work."

Al Moscatel (taken by Seattle Times staff)

Photos courtesy of 13 Coins

13 Coins

Pioneer Square
255 S King St
Seattle, WA 98104

18000 International Blvd.
SeaTac, WA 98188

900 Bellevue Way NE, Ste 100
Bellevue, WA 98004

Connie Adams/July 2018

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