The Single Most Dazzling Thing a Restaurateur Can Do
Pioneer a new cuisine? Launch a star chef? Not even close.
The single most dazzling thing a restaurateur can do is the daily work of stewarding a business so esteemed by its customers, it measures its life not in years—but decades.
Two bits of news crossed my desk this week. First was the announcement of the upcoming 35-year anniversary party of George’s, the mom-n-pop Greek joint that’s kept Kirkland in gyros and mousakas and spanikopitas since 1976. George Mangouras died a few years back, but his son Pete—raised here, after all—assumed the reins.
Now he invites you to join his four generations of regulars in hoisting a glass to 35 good years: This Saturday, August 27, at 7pm. Greek music, door prizes, new retail line, the works.
Also this weekend comes a quiet farewell from another old friend. Rare is the Seattleite who hasn’t at least once enjoyed the charms of Madison Park Café’s leafy courtyard for brunch, or twilit interior for French bistro food. Karen Binder opened the café in 1979 first as a coffee and tea-room, then as a breakfast and lunch stop, and ultimately as a dinner and brunch house.
Partners came and went, chefs were hired and replaced, concepts shifted and evolved—but through it all Binder kept the charming house restaurant humming: loving up the regulars, welcoming newcomers, keeping chefs in line, stepping in when someone called in sick. The long, thankless, buck-stops-here toil of the committed restaurateur.
On my last meal there, over a moist organic chicken breast with roasted fennel and the same silken French onion soup I’d enjoyed there for years, I wrote this: “The sort of wee neighborhood restaurant, with such a humane understanding of personal service, that restores my faith in the intimate dining room.”
Binder sold the place to the folks who shuttered 94 Stewart in the Pike Place Market; it will re-emerge in coming months as an Italian place, Café Parco. For her part, Binder will stay in the culinary biz, as a caterer and wine-seller. Reportedly, she is pleased with the transition.
Me, I’m wistful. I remember the same feeling of nostalgia and admiration when Adriatica closed, and Saleh al Lago, and Labuznik: longtime culinary standard-bearers that bore the strong imprint of deeply engaged owners and the recognizable mark of careful daily stewardship.
Ask any longtime owner—the Canlises, Tom Douglas of the Dahlia Lounge (and others), Jackie Roberts of the Pink Door, Carmine Smeraldo of Il Terrazzo Carmine, Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s, and more—and they’ll tell you how grueling it is. And how great.
Time for us to tell ’em back. So cheers, Mangouras family. As for Karen Binder, who serves her last Sunday brunch this Sunday the 28th: Merci and well done!