Zephyr Paquette, a memorable personality in Seattle’s already colorful world of chefs, is less than a month away from opening her restaurant Skelly and the Bean. She has amassed tables and chairs and burnished the floors in rice bran oil. Upended old barn planks now line the walls like some sort of bucolic wooden fence beneath a sky-painted ceiling. She has also set a February 23 public open date.
To say this Capitol Hill establishment is community-driven is a comical understatement. Thanks in part to a membership program she devised last year, Paquette, a veteran of Cafe Flora, Elliott Bay Cafe, and the former Dandelion, is somehow managing to open a 50-seat restaurant without taking out a single loan. She has relied instead on member contributions, the kindness of strangers, and support from friends and acquaintances acquired through her career. And lots of her own manual labor, of course. Paquette won’t say exactly how many members she has, but she’s planning on capping the list soon and releasing a few memberships each subsequent season. She also meets each member in person before bringing them on.
The former Easy Joe’s space on 10th Avenue is now home to a most decidedly mismatched assortment of tables and chairs. Every item in the dining room, says Paquette, was donated or purchased with member contributions. This means every piece of furniture has a story, from the table some friends grabbed from the side of the road while en route to the airport (they still made their flight), to the freebie table from Craigslist. The owners originally promised it to another taker, says Paquette, but revoked the offer once they read about the restaurant.
The menu will also contain its share of stories, like the “Rowley bites” mussel po’boys and geoduck salad, named in honor of sustainable shellfish superstar Jon Rowley. Other items sound like the chef herself: deadly serious about sourcing, but pretty damn fun. There’s the “buckets of rain” dessert (yes, named for the Dylan song) that’s an actual bucket of raindrop-shaped doughnuts with chocolate and jam to dip. Or the secret half-chicken: It could be stuffed, fried, braised—you won’t know till it arrives at the table. But do know this: There will be tater tots, made in-house and dubbed “petit paquets” (har).
In addition to dinner service, Paquette plans to open her space to classes and an incubator series that give young chefs and other un-restauranted talent a chance to do their thing. She’s already signing up chefs for the incubator calendar but is looking for more “upstarts” who might be interested.
Members get a monthly dining stipend and a few other perks, but the rest of us can start making reservations shortly after Valentine’s Day.