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Grappa

Upper Queen Anne's Mediterranean home

This corner spot on upper Queen Anne should be a most sought-after spot with lots of foot traffic and great visibility. Yet a number of restaurants have come and gone. So why did Yekta Levent and Kleon Tona, friends for 15 years, decide this was the spot to open a restaurant together?

"We accept the challenge!" was their rallying cry. So much so that they signed a 20-year lease in October 2015, opening early 2016. Four years later, they've settled into the "family of restaurants" on top of the hill and are a neighborhood favorite.

Yekta (left), Kleon (right)

While on Yekta's boat one day, Kleon said he found a place that was out of business, did Yekta want to see it? Yes! They looked at the location (the former La Luna), and did research on the area. "We wanted to find what was needed in the neighborhood," says Yekta. "Honestly, if it was Japanese, we would have done that. We were thinking of focusing on Greek and Turkish with kebabs but decided that Mediterranean was more appropriate for this location."

Yekta grew up in Istanbul and is Turkish, Italian, and French. Kleon is Greek Albanian and grew up in Kastoria, in northwest Greece. Yekta moved here in 2004 to attend the University of Washington. Kleon's family moved here in 2001; he also attended the UW. He and Yekta met in business management classes; Kleon's degree was in Microbiology with a genetics focus. He worked in the industry but gave it up to pursue hospitality. "Both Kleon and I had worked in restaurants: dishwashing, cooking, bartending, serving. I was the district manager for a ramen chain for three years and have managed restaurants and night clubs. We've also done restaurant consulting. Kleon had a restaurant, Vivendo, in Bothell's Country Village for five years, then gave it to his parents who had it until spring 2019 when the Village was closed. Most of Grappa's recipes come through Vivendo and are family recipes which go back a couple of centuries. We understand the business and have a passion for it. It's a wonderful feeling to feed total strangers what you would eat at home and be proud of it."

Going into the project 50/50, they didn't have a lot of money. "We built it, painted it, sanded wood, re-stained it. I do some import/export and found the tables. We paid to have the floors done. A friend redid the booths. The wood on the walls is from an old barn in Milton. The tile behind the bar was hand made in Morocco. We wanted to bring in as much as we could to make it feel right."

They were looking to bring in some of the small traditions that Europe has that America doesn't. "There's a reason that people drink Turkish coffee or grappa, or both, after a meal. It aids in digestion. We do a nice coffee service on a tray. While we want the mom and pop feel, we also want to deliver a higher service element. Italy's best is grappa. In the old days, poor people would go to winemakers and ask if they could have the pomice, the solid 'leftovers' (skin, pulp, seeds, stem) from winemaking. They took it and distilled it to make a liqueur. That's where the restaurant name came from. We are heavy on wine and offer the grappa that matches that wine. For instance, if someone orders a bottle of Brunello, we would offer Brunello grappa at the end of the meal." They have a full bar as well.

Menu items come from family recipes. "Our mothers come in to check on us and be our quality control. We call them our little soldiers. If something isn't working, they go back in the kitchen and teach the cooks how to fix it. From day 1, our sauces and dishes have been made from scratch. Our gnocchi has been around from the beginning and has been used in all kinds of dishes here, with our Bolognese and marinara. Queen Anne doesn't seem to be a big lunch draw, but we're open because we have people in at 8 a.m. prepping. It takes a lot of time to get everything ready for dinner." They use Jidori organic chicken, and both beef and lamb are grass fed. Baskets hung on railings of their sidewalk dining area hold organic mint, thyme, chives, and basil.

Greek lemon chicken

"Service is incredibly important. It starts from the beginning; if something goes wrong at the front door, it's hard to recover. One of the things we both learned from this experience is that you're much more emotionally involved when it's yours. We wanted to grow, too, so we hired some management to remove us by one step. We're still very close, but not managing the daily operations. We're so happy with our staff. We've had the same front of the house crew for a long time. In the beginning, we had to cook the food ourselves, but we've had the same kitchen staff now since the second year."

They both have other businesses. Yekta owns Armistice Coffee Roaster, with two locations, one on Eastlake and one on Roosevelt. Knowing he would need a larger roaster for two locations, he had a 15-kilo roaster shipped from Turkey. "We're a microroaster, roasting right on the street where you can see and smell it!" Kleon owns Dandylion on lower Queen Anne offering Pacific Northwest tapas with an emphasis on farm-to-table, sourcing everything locally. He recently started a separate speakeasy that is attached to Dandylion by a tunnel (the secret entrance), calling it The Den.

As for Queen Anne, Yekta says, "I want more restaurants here. I don't call the others competitors, they're my friends, we're a big family. We want to be part of the neighborhood, keep this place as long as we can, and have it be the place where the neighbors come in and have a good time."

Everyone likes a cold one

 

Grappa
2 Boston Street
Seattle, WA 98109
206-466-1028

www.grappaseattle.com

 

Photos courtesy of Grappa

Connie Adams/September 2019


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