Ten Years of Skillet: Evolved Street Food for the Masses

Skillet’s food has a personality and flair that stands out. It’s been that way from the get go. When I think of Skillet, I think of assertive flavors, great recipes, classic culinary techniques applied to innovative spins on American favorites, and a focus on seasonal and local ingredients. Skillet is a beloved Seattle restaurant and I’m proud they’ve chosen Macrina rolls and breads for many of their classic dishes.

Leslie

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In restaurant years, ten makes you a veteran. For Skillet, the ride has been adventurous. Skillet’s wild years began in a renegade Airstream trailer, involved a few skirmishes with a health department unfamiliar with food trucks, and a couple of run-ins with aggressive tow-truck drivers. But ambition, talent, and a few unforgettable dishes have carried Skillet to a successful but never dull maturity.

In 2007, street-food trucks weren’t a phenomenon. You could actually find downtown street corners without one. Beyond taco trucks—fabulous, yes, but one dimensional—there wasn’t much. Then Skillet’s pioneering street-food truck came along. People stood in long lines to eat the Fried Chicken Sammy, the Bacon Jam Burger, Poutine (not at all ubiquitous then), and the Kale Caesar. When discussing local food trucks, it’s fair to divide the conversation into Before Skillet (the dark ages) and After Skillet (the enlightenment).

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Fast forward ten years, Skillet has grown into a Seattle institution. There are four brick and mortar restaurants—Capital Hill, Ballard, Denny Regrade, Seattle Center—and two food trucks. What hasn’t changed is the food. Skillet’s chef-driven take on American-inspired classics has become a brand unto itself. Their greatest hits—the chicken sandwich, the burger, the Caesar, the waffle with braised pork belly, the griddle cakes with compote—couldn’t be pulled from the menu without risking insurrection, maybe a little like a Pearl Jam concert in which the band refused to play “Evenflow.” It’s not that the new stuff isn’t worth trying—it is—it’s just that Seattle fell in love with Skillet’s classics first and won’t let go. And that’s just fine with Skillet. They continue to source great local food, fix it up, and serve their favorite dishes to customers, many of them long-time devotees.

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The diners are spacious, light and airy, with a menu that expands upon the original food truck menu. To celebrate their tenth anniversary, Skillet is featuring a throwback menu all year that features recipes culled from old newsletters. March features the Lemongrass Pork Sammy with pickled ginger slaw. April features the Porchetta Sammy with hazelnut gremolata.

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That catering plays a role in Skillet’s middle-aged evolution should come as no surprise. Skillet’s burgers, fries, and milkshakes were first introduced at founder Josh Henderson’s wedding. Now, with a team of over 100 talented people, Skillet can cater up to six simultaneous events. Hundreds of brides and grooms have chosen Skillet to cater their weddings.

Catering Manager, Jessica Paul Jones, says that in addition to weddings, private parties and corporate events make up the bulk of their catering. But they can handle just about anything in Pacific Northwest. They’ve even have a china box that can roast a whole pig. One memorable catering event was a party at the top of the Smith Tower. Jessica remembers carrying food and equipment up the stairs (“My legs hurt for days”). Then there was the one at a ‘huuuuge” house in Laurelhurst that sat above the lake with 103 slate steps winding down to the lakeside tables (“My legs hurt even worse”).

When major life events occur, some Skillet fans rely upon their favorite restaurant. One such customer is Brian Benjamin, a weekly food truck regular since 2009. His go-to item is the Fried Chicken Sammy. His parents met his fiancé’s parents for the first time at the Skillet restaurant in Ballard. And guess who’s catering their wedding?

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Brian Benjamin

In a world of coincidences, one that isn’t all that surprising is that Brian is also a Macrina fan. He explains, “My fiancé, Jilian, used to live right behind the Macrina Bakery on Queen Anne. I always loved waking up on a weekend morning to walk over to get a ham and cheese brioche or Morning Glory muffin. We still swing by from time to time to pick up a loaf of rosemary semolina bread. I’m often more excited to eat the bread than I am the rest of the meal.”

Maybe that isn’t such a coincidence after all since Macrina’s potato roll has long been an essential part of Skillet’s Fried Chicken Sammy. At Macrina, we’re proud to be a part of one of Seattle’s favorite sandwiches.

What’s next for Skillet? Ani Pendergast, Skillet’s Director of Marketing, says, “Our focus is on maintaining the same kind of consistency we’ve always had. We’d love to open more neighborhood restaurants. But first we have to feel that we have the capacity to do it, then we need to find the right location. Our primary focus has always been on the food and the service. Whether you hit the restaurants, the trucks, or catering we want to be sure you get Skillet food and Skillet service. So we don’t spread ourselves too thin, we’ll only grow when we’re ready for it.”

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

“There are many good olive oils out there, but few that are exceptional, especially at a reasonable price. I tried Azeite Esplendido at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year and was blown away. Sheila Fitzgerald, the importer, impressed me with her passion and knowledge for all things olive oil, from its health benefits to the advantages of small-scale artisanal production. I love the balance this oil has. It’s assertive, with that great peppery spice, not bitter, and low in acidity. I am proud to add Azeite Esplendido to the small curated line of products we carry at Macrina.” 

Leslie

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

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A great extra virgin olive oil is as different from the typical pale yellow stuff sold in supermarkets as pure maple syrup is from Aunt Jemima’s. Good olive oil is alive and peppery, not bitter, and taken straight can make you cough. If you’re accustomed to bland commodity olive oil one spoonful of the real thing will transport you to another gustatory plane where flavor defies known parameters.

That’s sort of what happened when Seattle resident Sheila Fitzgerald was hiking through northern Portugal en route to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in 2012. In the high hills above the Douro Valley, a soaring majestic patchwork of cultivated agriculture and natural, craggy slopes, she found herself in a grove of olive trees. Some had massive trunks, their limbs twisted and magnificent with age. She introduced herself to the property owner, Henrique Cardoso, a fourth-generation farmer, who then introduced her to his olive oil.

fullsizeoutput_3e9a “I knew good olive oil, but I’d never tasted anything like his,” Sheila says. “The golden-green oil had a peppery spiciness to it, no bitterness, and a complexity and balance that I’d never experienced.”

That revelatory moment kicked off Sheila’s four-year journey to become the sole US importer of Henrique’s olive oil. The first challenge was winning Henrique’s trust, persuading him that she would uphold his fierce commitment to quality. Next came an extended process of gaining FDA approval, an involved study of the existing US market, selecting bottles, and designing a label.

Since that first visit, Sheila has been back many times, including at harvest time, which starts in November and goes through January.

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“Henrique picks his olives early and makes Azeite Esplendido from the first harvest,” Sheila says. “That means the olive is picked when they’re very green. Most farmers wait until the olives get plumper. That way they get more oil out of it. But the olive loses flavor as it ripens. My oil has a peppery spiciness to it. That’s indicative of an early harvest. It can bring tears to your eyes, even make you cough. That’s a good thing.”

Harvest is a time of celebration. An autumnal chill in the air, the groves often laced with tendrils of fog, pickers go from tree to tree using long rakes to pull the olives into nets. An old tractor hauls them to the press, no longer one of the picturesque stone mills, but a state-of-the-art stainless steel centrifuge.

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“The olives are washed then ground into a mash before they’re dumped into the centrifuge,” Sheila says. “Henrique continually adjusts the revolutions per second, which changes the oil. He’s always testing it.”

Before the bottling, which is done within twelve hours of pressing, comes the blending. Azeite Esplendido is composed of first cold-pressed oil from four types of olives: Transmontona Verdeal, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, and Madural.

Sheila says, “Henrique guards the percentage of each olive in the blend. It’s the secret to his recipe. Along with picking at the right time, carefully monitoring of the oil extraction, and cultivating the best trees.”

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The Tras-os-Montes region, where the farm is located, is one of the six protected designation of origin (DOP) zones in Portugal. The microclimate and soil make it an ideal place for olive trees. On Henrique’s farm, the trees are widely spaced to allow each tree plenty of sun and wind and rain. Some of the trees are five to six hundred years old. These are called the mother trees. Around their base workers mound extra dirt. When new shoots come up they are transplanted, hence the name mother tree. The trees are not irrigated.

Sheila says, “Henrique told me doesn’t want to babysit his trees. It’s survival of the fittest. If it can’t grow there, he doesn’t want it.”

While Italy’s olive trees suffered through a terrible year in 2016 that halved production, Henrique’s groves fared well.

“Olive oil is a live product. It changes over time,” Sheila says. “It’s dependent on fluctuations in the weather. The new harvest is so bright green. Henrique tasted the oil at bottling and said, ‘My olive oil is so good this year we’re gonna blow the dishes off the wall.’ It wasn’t a translation issue. That’s his expression. No one makes olive oil like he does.”

Last April, at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, 827 olive oil entries from 26 countries were judged. Azeite Espledido took home the top honor, a gold medal.

Macrina is proud to carry this fine olive oil. Buy a bottle and a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, puddle a bit of oil on a plate and dip. Will it blow the dishes off the wall? Probably not. But it just might blow you away.

Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Ethan and Angela Stowell probably don’t need an introduction, but just in case, they’re the couple behind 15 esteemed Seattle restaurants, namely Anchovies & Olives, Ballard Pizza Co. (3 locations), Bar Cotto, Bramling Cross, Goldfinch Tavern, How to Cook a Wolf, Marine Hardware, Mkt., Red Cow, Rione XIII, Staple & Fancy, Tavolàta Belltown, Tavolàta Capitol Hill. Ethan is the chef, Angela the CEO. That they ever relax may come as a surprise, but they make time. I’ve always loved Ethan’s cooking and his dedication to using local and seasonal ingredients. I’m honored that they use Macrina breads at their restaurants. They are wonderful people and one of Seattle’s premier restaurateurs. Learn more about their life outside of the kitchen right here.

Leslie

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Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Everybody knows running restaurants is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Add kids and a serious commitment to philanthropy and you’ve got a recipe for a life few would call relaxing. Humble, as Angela and Ethan Stowell both are, they’d be the first to point out that they have the support of a great team in all they do. But even with a strong team, Ethan and Angela work long and hard and are pulled in many directions. Still, they remain deeply committed to spending quality time together with their two young children, Adrian and Franklin.

Given their culinary prowess you might expect them to spend their free time teaching the kids how to foraging for chanterelles or morels in the forest, or out on the beach digging for Manila clams. Turns out they’re just like most parents with two young kids, racing home from brunch at their neighborhood dim sum restaurant before their two-year-old, Franklin, falls asleep.

Ethan explains, “Because when you’re doing naps—you know what it’s like having kids—after lunch you’ve got to race home before he falls asleep. If you have a half-hour drive, you’re in trouble. The last thing you need is a twenty-minute power nap.”

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Because Ethan frequently works in the evening, mornings become family time.

“The nice thing about our schedule is we have family breakfasts every morning because we have the luxury of not leaving the house until nine,” Angela says. “Breakfast is our long time together, kind of the reverse of most families.”

Ethan gets up with the kids and starts breakfast. When he can he gets them involved, often making pancakes, eggs, or oatmeal.

Angela adds, “Well, we try not to do pancakes more than two mornings in a row.”

Presently, in fact, Ethan is skipping the pancakes nearly altogether. About a year ago, he lost over 50 pounds through a mixture of diet and exercise and has kept the weight off. He is very careful about what he eats for breakfast and lunch, then lets loose at dinner. And he is religious about getting in an hour of exercise each day. Angela has always been a fitness and health advocate.

“Before having kids I did lots of triathlons and a half ironman,” Angela says. “I’ve been a runner for a long time. For me, it’s a stress relief. This may not be the most romantic thing in the world at 9 p.m., but if we’re both home, when we get the kids to bed, we’ll both go exercise. Sometimes it’s the only time we have, especially if it’s a Sunday and we’ve been busy with them all day. We both get our hour workout in.

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One key block of time for Angela to sneak in a long run is Saturday mornings when Ethan and a group of dads take the kids out without the moms.

“Saturday I just work a half day, so it’s dad and kid time,” Ethan says. “I have a friends’ group of five to six guys. A text thread goes out. Not everyone can make it every time. We meet somewhere at ten, go to the zoo, or the Science Center, or Golden Gardens. Then we get lunch and rush home for nap time.”

In the summer, weekends are often spent on Whidbey Island where Ethan’s parents have a vacation home. The island is Angela’s favorite place to be.

“Our weekends there are kind of always the same,” Angela says. “In the summertime we go to the farmers market in the morning, we go to Primo Bistro, we always go to Moonraker Books to check out what’s happening there and visit the owner Josh, then we visit a couple of farms with stands, maybe grab a loaf of Screaming Banshee bread. The cool thing about Whidbey is that there are a lot of people who knew Ethan when he was five years old. Those people are now super invested in our family.”

In Seattle, when the Stowell’s have the occasional night together they frequently go out to eat.

“We are definitely a family that doesn’t shy from taking them out to restaurants,” Ethan says. “I’m a big believer in bringing kids to our restaurants. You want kids getting used to eating good food, getting used to being out socially.”

In fact, this January they will be starting a family dinner night at Rione.

“I’m super excited about it,” Angela says. “From five to seven anybody who makes a reservation will be told that there will be kids around. It’s an opportunity for families to come out with their kids. Don’t feel bad if things get spilled. It’s gonna be hard to keep the kids in their seats.”

“There’s gonna be spaghetti on the windows,” Ethan says with a smile.

Angela adds, “We’ll be there. And at some point our kids will have iPads out. I think it’s good for parents to see that it is okay to do what you have to do to get through dinner at a restaurant. Because it’s not always going to be like this, and sometimes you just need a moment’s peace to finish your wine.”

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While they may be a more high-profile couple than most in Seattle, they both stress that their private lives are much like any other family.

“My life isn’t much different than any working mom,” Angela says. “You wake up and someone needs you right away—this morning it was who gets to sit next to mom—then you go to work and someone needs you. Then you get home and they need you again. Then maybe I squeeze in a little workout. Not anything different than any other working mom. We’re just really appreciative of the window of time we get together.”

Visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com to learn more and make reservations at your favorite spot.

Meet Our Team: Sergio Castaneda, Delivery General Manager

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Sergio started working as a driver at Macrina in 2002, delivering breads and pastries to wholesale accounts. Later, he became a packer, arriving early to bag all the fresh bread and pastries for delivery, was promoted to lead and later to an assistant manager. Having also spent some time as a pastry chef at a previous job, Sergio’s knowledge is broad. “I know all the elements of the business, from mixing dough and baking it, to handing it to the customer.” As the Delivery General Manager, Sergio oversees 23 drivers, seven packers, and an assistant manager. With new accounts being added every day, that number will grow.

His work day usually starts early in the morning. Not the sort of manager to sit idly in the office, Sergio can often be found shoulder to shoulder with the other packers, readying the day’s deliveries. Later, when all the deliveries have been made, he tackles his management duties, contacts new customers, works with other departments within Macrina to resolve pressing issues, hires new personnel, and continually looks for ways to improve his team’s ability to excel. He loves to work with so many people from different cultures and backgrounds. “I learn something new every day.”

Sergio lives in South Seattle with his wife and three children, ages 13, 11, and 6. By working early in the morning and getting home before the kids are out of school he gets to spend lots of time with them. “They’re growing up fast and family is the most important thing to me,” he says. Both he and his wife have strong backgrounds in food, so they share the cooking duties. His favorite cuisine to prepare is Italian—especially pizza and various pastas.

His family moved from Nayarit, Mexico to White Center in 1998 when he was 15. His two older brothers and an older sister helped him adjust to life in a new country. All of his siblings remain in the area.

When asked what his favorite thing about Macrina is Sergio paused, thought a moment, then said, “There are many. The Challah bread, the Brioche with Nutella, and the Plain Baguette, certainly. But also the professionalism of the people I work with.”

The Buzz on (Really) Local Honey

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On my Vashon Island farm, I have plenty of space for my gardens and chickens. But the current trend in urban farming blurs the old line between city and country. Farming used to be something that took place outside of town. Nowadays, many Seattle homes have parking strip planter boxes overflowing with beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, corn, and much more. Composting boxes overflow. Chickens cluck proudly in backyards, supermarket eggs are no match to their prize offerings. So it’s no surprise that urban bees should follow. That urban produce needs to be cross-pollinated somehow.

Corky Luster started Ballard Bee Company out of his Ballard garage. He’s the Steve Jobs of local honey, the godfather of the urban hive. Turns out it takes more than just plonking a couple of hives in your yard. You need to know how to manage the colony.

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(Photo: Seattle Tilth)

Corky’s love for beekeeping began in college when a German roommate started a couple of hives in their backyard. While working as a designer and contractor building homes in Seattle, he started raising bees in Ballard. City ordinance only allows up to four hives on lots less than 10,000 feet. So Corky began recruiting others to host hives. He manages them; the homeowner gets a dividend of honey and the knowledge that they’re helping our local ecosystem. The hive takes up little space, but its impact is large. Corky combats disease-and-mites by using integrated pest management principles and avoids harsh pesticides, such as acaricides, in his efforts to keep the hives healthy and happy. The city, surprisingly, turns out to be a great place to produce honey since urban trees and gardens tend to be free of industrial agricultural pesticides. With a surplus of fantastic honey, Corky bottled it and began to sell it through a few local stores in 2010.

Renee Erickson, chef of Ballard’s The Walrus and The Carpenter and Fremont’s The Whale Wins, has Corky manage hives for her restaurants. Corky’s cult status in the beekeeping world has also allowed him to partner with Seattle Tilth to teach classes on building and maintaining healthy hives.

At Macrina, I’ve always tried to carry a few locally produced items that complement our breads—it’s hard to find anything more local than Ballard Bee Company’s honey. The flavor is delicate and floral, with just a hint of lemon in the aftertaste. With Seattle’s explosion of urban farming, there are plenty of flowering trees, flowers, and gardens. Plus all those wild blackberries. So the bees do their important work, Corky’s careful attention keeps their hives healthy and we get to offer this beautiful honey. Everybody wins!

Leslie

Walnut Street Coffee

Walnut Street Coffee is a perfect destination, whether you’re a local or looking for a little weekend adventure. Downtown Edmonds is a charming spot. The baristas are friendly and efficient and they make beautiful coffee. ~ Leslie

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A headline in the recent issue of the Edmonds Beacon declares “Edmonds is no longer ‘Deadmonds.” With a growing population and an invigorated downtown, Edmonds is on the rise. Pam Stuller, the founder and owner of local favorite Walnut Street Coffee, is just the kind of entrepreneur that has helped make downtown Edmonds the vibrant place it is today.

When she found the space for her cafe in 2006, Walnut Street was pretty quiet. She and her husband, who live in nearby Richmond Beach, were riding their bikes around town and encountered a funky cinderblock building that had originally been built as a boat engine repair shop. Its defining feature was a roll-up garage door. A dream location; downtown, but enough off the beaten track to be the place locals would seek out away from the ferry and tourist crowd. One problem: a flower shop occupied the space. So she sent the letter to the landlord and six months later he called.

“People thought I was a crazy to take the space,” Pam said.

IMG_4350Out of college Pam didn’t imagine herself running a busy coffee shop. For ten years she worked in human resources. In 2002, a friend, Michael Prins was opening the first Herkimer Coffee on Phinney Ridge. She was working for Nature Conservancy, an organization she loved. But she was restless.

“If you can’t love your job and you’re working at an amazing organization what do you do? I felt like I’d already done everything I could to love what I do and it wasn’t working.”

So she left her job to help Michael get Herkimer Coffee up and running, focusing on the things she had experience doing, such as hiring a staff. A year and a half later she found herself still working there as a barista.

“It was the most fun, most rewarding, most enriching work experience I’d ever had. I loved it. I’d always loved cafes and cafe culture but I’d always been intimidated by the art of coffee. That was where I got to learn the craft and the trade. I knew then this was what I wanted to do. In coffee, you get to know people in such a different way. Most people are pretty routine about their coffee. You have this two-minute touch. Over time you pick up all the little intimate details—a kid is sick, news of a vacation, job changes—and you build a meaningful personal relationship. It’s pretty amazing.”

That led her to Edmonds and Walnut Street Coffee. She and her husband did most of the buildout themselves.

“My goal was to do one thing and to do it really well and to keep focused on what brings me joy. I figured that if I was happy to come here every day, the customers would follow.”

They did, but it took a lot of work. For the first two years, Pam worked seven days a week.

“The business almost ate me alive. Around year three I began adding enough staff that I could have a couple of days off a week.”

Keeping things simple has been key to her success.

“My passion and my love is espresso. But I don’t have experience making pastries. I’ve worked in restaurants and I know how much goes into food service. I wanted to keep things as simple and focused as possible.”

Initially, bakery options were few, but as Edmonds has grown so have options.

IMG_4338“I’m so thrilled to have Macrina. Edmonds is enough off the beaten track that delivery
options are few. You’re not on your way to anywhere when you come to Edmonds. When Macrina started delivering here, I was thrilled. The caliber and consistency of the baked goods are first-rate. Our customers love them.”

Approaching her ten-year anniversary, Pam is lucky to have two baristas who have been with her for over eight years. That’s exceptional in a high-turnover industry where the average barista stays at a job for one year. With her background in human resources maybe it should come as no surprise.

“I have a pretty amazing benefits package, especially for this kind of business. I have a retirement plan, profit sharing, health care, paid time off, holiday pay.”

She attributes much of the success of her business to her employees.

“I never underestimate the value of my people. They’re instrumental in maintaining and in continuing to build our business. Our business has grown every year since we opened, which includes the downturn.”

Occasionally she thinks about expanding, but worries she’d wind up doing more of the stuff she doesn’t love doing, like bookkeeping and back of the house work.

“I love the connection I have with my staff and my customers, and I worry that would get diluted. I live simply, and I’m happy the way things are. I hike, bike, cross-country ski, garden, walk my dog, I’m an avid reader, and I love to spend time with my family, friends, and my parents. I don’t want to lose any of that.”

Her love of the city recently led her to get involved in a business group called the Edmonds Downtown Alliance. She served a stint as president last year.

“That was rewarding, developing deeper relationships with the other merchants and finding ways to take what is so great about this town and amplify that so everybody does better.”

IMG_4345If you don’t already spend time in the seaside town of Edmonds, it’s time to make a trip. There are a couple of breweries, a distillery, a movie theater, lots of shopping, a bookstore, tasty restaurants. Most shops are small and owner-operated.

“You wouldn’t have to leave Edmonds if you didn’t want to. We kind of have it all in this little pocket, and it’s so scenic. It’s very Mayberryish in a way, but it also has an authenticity to it that I really enjoy.”

Start with a caffe latte and a treat from Walnut Street Coffee and take a stroll down 5th Avenue towards Main Street and you’ll discover that “Deadmonds” no longer exists.

Wedding Cakes

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I didn’t intend to get into the business of wedding cakes, exactly. I wasn’t particularly averse to it – it’s just that when you’re busy with the daily routine of bread and pastries, throwing a wedding cake into the mix sounds complicated. And wedding cakes can be pretty show-offy, lots of frills and sugar flowers, with a greater focus on glamour than taste, and as subject to the vagaries of fashion as bride’s dresses are. I worried it was too far from my focus to keep up. But when my sister Allison and brother-in-law Marty asked me to do their wedding cake, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Their wedding was January 22, 1994, just six months after I’d opened Macrina. They needed a cake to serve to 250 guests. Amidst the chaos of running a new bakery, I set to work making a large cake with four tiers. The bottom cake was 16” in diameter. I vaguely remember each layer being a different type of cake. The wedding was in Portland. I loaded the layers flat into the back of our delivery van. Fortunately, the weather was winter cold. Heat is not good for the cakes and the icing. I worried that the cakes would get damaged, but everything survived the journey. I assembled the cake there, decorating it with a white-chocolate, cream-cheese buttercream, edible gold flakes, and fresh flowers. I was so proud of the way it turned out.

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Since then Macrina has done hundreds of wedding cakes. The style is much the same as the one I did for my sister—simple, fresh and elegant. Once I’d done a few, word of mouth brought in newly engaged couples. For years, I coordinated and delivered the wedding cakes. I made many a cake delivery with my daughter Olivia. Her baby backpack had a frame that allowed it to stand and she would sit patiently while I stacked, finished, and decorated the cakes. In 2002, our pastry department took over the wedding cakes. Significant improvements were made to the wedding cake department. Our decorating got more creative while remaining simple, fresh and elegant.  About ten years ago we added wedding cakes to our website. This has been a great discussion opener for interested couples.

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Today, Anna Moomaw-Parks is our wedding cake coordinator. She gathers details, manages the schedule and delivery and is the point of contact for couples and wedding planners, all to make sure our customers get the best possible service. Anna says, “Wedding cakes aren’t the primary focus of Macrina. They are a special thing we do, and we work hard to make them special. We don’t have a team of people producing them. One of our pastry chefs, Mariah Eubanks, makes and decorates the cakes. We’re careful not to take more orders than we can handle. It is an important day for the customers. We want to be sure we do all we can to make it wonderful.”  About a year ago we had the pleasure of making a cake for Anna’s wedding.

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I love the way our tradition has evolved while holding to its roots. Mi Kim, our head pastry chef, baked and decorated all the wedding cakes for several years. A couple of years ago she trained Mariah, seamlessly passing the tradition to another talented pastry chef. Now Mariah is designing a Macrina wedding cake for her own nuptials this coming October. She’s leaning towards the almond torta cake with the same white chocolate cream cheese buttercream I made for my sister’s cake.  Of course, she won’t be making her cake. Superstition says the bride who bakes her own cake is asking for trouble.

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We are currently in the midst of wedding planning season. Quite a few engagements happen over the holidays, with weddings planned for the summer. Mariah has been busy meeting with couples to design their cakes.

Looking through pictures of the cakes we’ve done over the last 20 plus years makes me so proud of our tradition of fresh baked, delicious and beautifully decorated wedding cakes. And I am very pleased that and so many couples wanted to include us in their special day.

Leslie

For more information on our wedding cakes please visit our website.

Meet Linda Derschang

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For over 20 years Linda Derschang has been a dynamic figure in Seattle’s dining and nightlife scene, particularly on Capitol Hill.

It all started in 1994 on Pine Street, in the heart of the now thriving Pike/Pine corridor, with the beloved and quirky Linda’s Tavern. The tavern drew inspiration from the mountain bars around Crested Butte near where Linda grew up in Colorado. Located on a formerly gritty stretch of Pine Street, the neon sign in the window reads “TOOLS RADIO TACKLE.” When you step through the door you are transported somewhere else. The rustic wooden booths, neon signs, the rough-hewn planks that hold the liquor bottles, and the glowering bison head behind the bar are not the stuff of any ordinary scruffy bar. Add to that one of the best patios in the city, a crowd of talented creatives, and you’ve got a hit.

Twenty years on, it’s still hard to find an open table. The bar looks much as it did when it opened though the neighborhood surrounding it has changed immensely. And Linda, both the person and her namesake bar, have helped shape the aesthetic that makes Capitol Hill such a draw.

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A stream of very different and equally memorable places followed Linda’s: The Capital Club, The Baltic Room, Chop Suey, (she has sold her interest in these three), King’s Hardware, Smith, Oddfellows Cafe and Bar, Little Oddfellows in the Elliot Bay Book Company, Bait Shop, and Tallulah’s.

With the exception of Ballard’s King’s Hardware, all of them are a short bike ride away from each other. Each attracts an eclectic and devoted neighborhood crowd. What unites them is Linda’s unerring sense of design—whether it’s applied to the airy, elegant Oddfellow’s Cafe or the eccentric dive-bar feel of Bait Shop.

Linda has been a long-time wholesale customer of Macrina, a relationship we’re very proud of. Recently we had an opportunity to ask her a few questions.

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Each of your places feels like someone had fun creating them—that sense of  “Wouldn’t it be cool if….” And they feel authentic. There seems to be a real enjoyment of design down to the smallest details, such as the owl salt/pepper shakers at Tallulah’s. Would you talk a bit about your design process?

Tallulah's brunch

The design process is different for each project. I approached Little Oddfellows very differently because it was a remodel of a business than from Tallulah’s, which was in new construction, or Oddfellows which is in a very old building. Sometimes I make up a story about the place I am designing. For Little Oddfellows I imagined a coffee shop in Amsterdam or Copenhagen perhaps. Sometimes I think of a few key terms like turn of the century mercantile.

You’re right about the loving of the details, that can be the most enjoyable part. I think when opening a business it can be easy to think that you’ll get to the little details later but I believe it’s really important to open with them to give a really finished feel to a place.

Found objects play a role in a number of the establishments. Are you always on the hunt?

Smith Portrait Wall

I am always keeping an eye out and over the years, I’ve ended up with lots of interesting, quirky objects that often I will keep at my home for a while before I find the perfect spot for them. Take the portrait wall at Smith – I started collecting old portraits because I kept running across them at all sorts of places, years ago they were very inexpensive and I felt that in a sense they were all orphans. I really loved using many of them at Smith. I feel that they add to the charm and look.

Where do you find so many cool signs, great used furniture, the drink mixer at Bait Shop, etc.?

I find things all over the place, including antique malls, thrift stores, and Craigslist. Cashmere, the huge cat painting in Tallulah’s, came from Kirk Albert in Georgetown as did the old Firebird hood mounted to the wall at Bait Shop. I love the stories these pieces can add to a space. 

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How has your design taste evolved over time? 

My taste and style has always been a mix of old and new and high and low. Having a mix of styles has always been very natural for me. I think traveling has definitely added to my taste, I get so much inspiration and so many ideas from other places. I went to Denmark a few months before I opened Little Oddfellows and the Scandinavian cafes I visited while I was there were so inspiring and influenced my approach to designing the space.

Do you come to a space with a concept in mind or does the space drive the concept?

I always think about the neighborhood the space will be part of. I try to create businesses that are meaningful to their neighborhoods and communities. Each one of my businesses is different from each other, but they are all neighborhood spots. That’s a common thread they share.

http://www.thederschanggroup.com/who-we-are/ for more information on Linda.

 

The Thanksgiving Rush

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Thanksgiving is such a special time of year, a time for family and friends to come together to celebrate food. Not surprisingly, the Thanksgiving holiday is the busiest time of year for us at Macrina. Demand for our offerings has grown every year. So many customers have told me how helpful it is to get items from us—our pumpkin pie, for instance—that allows them to spend more time with family and friends, offerings they know will shine.

And isn’t it really the sides and the pie that make the Thanksgiving holiday? I enjoy a slice or two of turkey, but what I go for is the stuffing, the vegetables, the cranberries, the rolls, and at my table anyway, various crostini with interesting spreads. To this end, we make a stuffing mix that has gotten very popular. We used to sell the stuffing mix only in the cafes, making it with leftover bread. Now we bake loaves just for the stuffing mix. You can find them at many places that carry Macrina’s breads. Our crostini and spreads have also taken off, as have our dinner rolls, our Winter Pear Crown and, of course, our pies.

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Loaves of bread waiting to be prepped into our stuffing mix

We start our planning in early September when I sit down with our lead bakers, our savory department, and our retail managers. We talk about past favorites and new ideas. We test recipes. When we finally have our season’s list of offerings, we talk about logistics. This is no small challenge. Even with our fabulous space in Sodo, which once seemed so big, we are bursting at the seams. The spatial challenges and work-flow planning fall on the capable shoulders of Production Manager Jane Cho. The mixers run around the clock now, with three shifts managing dough production. On Thanksgiving eve last year they mixed nearly 20,000 pounds of dough. A seasonal crew is brought in to help with the production and packaging of the stuffing mix. Given the limited floor space, Jane maps out the production floor on charts that resemble architectural renderings.

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Loaves of Guiseppe awaiting delivery to local grocery stores.

I work with Head Baker Phong Bui on all the items, such as this year’s Porcini Roll Tray, or the Winter Pear Crown, a sweet bread spiked with black pepper. Mi Kim, our head pastry chef, stays busy prepping lots of pie shells, pies, and ingredients to be ready for the big Thanksgiving rush. She says, “Every day is a busy day for our bakers once the holiday season is here! Long days are logged from everyone when needed, and we have fun doing it!”

In our savory department, Savory General Manager Marilyn Mercer and her team, in addition to preparing items for the cafes, are busy making the spreads, including a new one, a smoked trout spread. Savory Assistant Manager Elizabeth Hall says, “It’s Scandinavian-inspired, with smoked white trout from Gerard & Dominique, a premium purveyor of smoked fish, located right here in Washington state. We blend the smoked trout with a hint of horseradish, cream cheese, scallions, parsley, chervil, and lemon.”

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Our pastry case stocked with Thanksgiving treats.

The cafes must also do lots of extra planning, upping their pars to ensure they have enough on the shelves for their customers. Crystal Kitchin, general manager of cafes, starts the month off with a two-night Thanksgiving tasting. Each member of the retail staff tastes the products and learns how different items pair so they can help guide customers. On Thanksgiving Eve the management team comes in early in the morning to put together the long list of special orders that have been placed throughout the month. Elizabeth Krhounek, general manager of the McGraw Cafe, says, “Being here at 2:30 in the morning in my pajamas to get all the orders ready is really fun, also putting on music we usually can’t listen to in the store. Last year my lead came in wearing his red onesie pajamas.”

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Crystal checking to make sure all the orders are organized for pick up.

While all the extra work provides new challenges, it’s exciting to see all the teamwork. “In production you see everyone moving fast, working their hardest, but we have fun,” Jane Cho says. “It’s exciting. And then after months of planning it’s just suddenly over and we get to enjoy the holiday with family and friends.” It really is a rush, in every sense. I love it all.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 23rd.

Leslie

Sunset Magazine

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Sunset Magazine is featuring my kitchen in the October issue. Truth be told, the article is sweet to include me, but the true focus is my all-time favorite cabinets. Kerf Design, located in the Interbay neighborhood of Seattle, built them. The owner and designer, Nathan Hartman, is a sweet, quiet man with a remarkable, creative aesthetic. He designed the cabinets for my kitchen with function in mind, aiming for a sleek, modern look. The cabinets are constructed of one-inch maple laminate plywood. To brighten them up and add a sense of playfulness we added colorful laminate inserts. The farm-style open shelves work well for me. I appreciate being able to see where everything is and it forces me to be clean, like working in an open kitchen. I don’t think the cabinets could be more beautiful. Surprisingly they are far from the most expensive in their league. Initially, I worried about how they would hold up. I’ve seen plenty of home kitchens that look spectacular but don’t look like they were designed to get a lot of use. I knew mine would, and it has. The cabinets have held up beautifully. The magazine is on newsstands now, or you can check out the article here.

Leslie