One thing I love about Tom Douglas: The man could afford media training up the wazoo, fashioning him into a machine of pithy, PR-approved sound bites. Instead, when an interviewer actually asks him a substantive question, he offers up tales of his missteps, specifics of running his restaurants as an actual business, and how he manages to serve quality food to tightwad Amazon employees, pay a living wage, and still make some money. Granted, Douglas is plenty savvy when it comes to branding himself. But considering he's reached a level of success where most people traffic in bland quotes and canned platitudes, his candor is damn refreshing.
Douglas is out on tour promoting his Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, and he seems to get especially truthful when he interviews in different area codes. Friday's interview with Paolo Lucchesi at the San Francisco Chronicle is a font of information, insight, a well-timed F bomb, and some general T-Dougisms. Definitely read the whole thing, but here are a few teasers...
Food styles that interest him: "There isn’t really, outside of Wild Ginger, a take on modern Chinese food in Seattle — in the whole city, a city full of Asians. There’s hardly a take on modern Japanese food. There’s no great take on Latin food."
His "most successful restaurant ever": Brave Horse Tavern
On retooling restaurants that are "clunkers": "We have a restaurant where I think we make beautiful pasta. We’ve been making pasta for 20 years, but this is the first time we’ve focused on it. It is delicious, fairly priced. It’s in a tough location for that kind of restaurant. It’s over where there are no hotels, not theaters. All our other restaurants have that kind of support. It’s just not doing what we were hoping it would do. But I’ll stick with it."
On opening Seatown on a drug-infested corner: "So a lease came up and I just said this was our opportunity to fix this corner, because there’s room for outdoor seating. I said, the only thing I couldn’t do here is flop, because it’s such a visible location. And I totally fucked it up" [laughing]. [He goes on to explain how, and the changes he made].
On finances: "Our best year ever was a five percent profit."