Like many couples trying to buy a house in Seattle, Maximillian and Jennifer Petty broadened their radius significantly last year, seeking homes they could actually afford. Then the pandemic destabilized their two Queen Anne restaurants, Eden Hill and Eden Hill Provisions. Unlike most residential real estate searches, the upshot has ramifications for the state’s broader dining scene. And a rather unexpected (but excellent) outcome: The Pettys are opening a restaurant in Walla Walla. And they’re going big.
Maximillian Petty, a guy with multiple James Beard semifinalist nods, will be cooking in the former home of Whitehouse-Crawford. It’s a fitting new chapter for this handsome brick building, originally a planing mill. Whitehouse-Crawford's debut in 2000 gave Walla Walla the sort of ambitious dining that turns a wine region into a proper destination, but the restaurant closed permanently last April.
The couple's housing search quickly expanded to places like the Olympic Peninsula. But even the most appealing, affordable small town posed a professional dilemma, says Max: "What are we actually going to do out here?" The listing for the Whitehouse-Crawford space was one of a half dozen the couple volleyed back and forth about in marital what-if text exchanges, but the first one that made them actually pick up the phone. “It just captivated us,” says Jennifer Petty. “There’s so much history.”
They have dubbed the new enterprise the Kinglet at Whitehouse-Crawford. The new part of that moniker, says Max, comes from “a chubby little songbird that sings in the Blue Hills,” once the nearby source of lumber that came to this building in its milling days. It should open by the end of the year. The couple is part of a wave of Seattle chefs looking outside the city after contending with its costs and limitations, though their journey might involve the most miles, and the most square footage. You could stuff both the Pettys’ existing restaurants into their new space with room to spare; the couple does have multiple plans for their new enterprise, which looks into the barrel room for Seven Hills Winery in the other half of the building.
The dining room proper will serve the sort of intelligently playful food that built Max Petty’s reputation at Eden Hill, dialed to a more accessible, wine-friendly frequency; a burger, perhaps a steak will augment the a la carte menu. The bar and lounge area will stay open later with a snack-heavy food lineup (a pizza oven has him especially excited) and a cocktail program for those who need a break from wine. And then, says Petty, “there's a beautiful chef's counter. And we're gonna separate that just a little bit more and bring the grand tasting back.”
Here, the chef will revisit the multicourse menus he set out to make at Eden Hill, before the neighborhood requested his pig’s head candy bar and foie gras cake batter creations on a more casual, a la carte basis. And long before his Eden Hill Provisions down the street became a burger destination. He envisions serving 12 to 18 tiny courses at the Kinglet, with a dedicated chef presiding over those eight seats. “I want to give it the respect it deserves,” he says. “I know people are coming for wine and food experiences when they visit.”
While the Pettys conceived of this plan in one of the (many) low moments that came with running restaurants in 2020, they won't actually say farewell to Seattle—at least not any time soon. The reopening means Eden Hill is busy once again; this fall, Eden Hill Provisions will officially become Big Max Burger Co., a formal acknowledgment of the burger shop identity that kept it afloat through the pandemic. While this significant restaurant project on the other side of the state was born from a desire to relocate, the Pettys will split their time between their Seattle and Walla Walla operations as they find their footing and formulate a longer-term plan. Hopefully at some point they get to buy that house, too.
Talking about an enormous new project feels a world removed from the months when the couple was sweating and scraping to pay rent at Eden Hill. Jennifer recalls multiple moments when they asked themselves, “Do we give our notice this month? That would relieve so much stress and heartache.” But they couldn’t let it go. Meanwhile, they trekked to various smaller towns around Washington, affordable ones with good schools, and tried to imagine career fulfillment there. “I was having a breakdown,” says Max. The Walla Walla project, and the community itself, felt right—“As we're coming out of the ashes, we want to kind of grab everything on the way up.”