In August 2013, when layers of metal sheeting were first getting peeled off the old File Box warehouse, CHS predicted that the area around 10th and Seneca would be completely transformed in 20 years. You can probably shave a few years off of that prediction.
After more than a year of preservation work on the 1917-built Central Agency Building, the cavernous food and drink complex is buzzing with activity. Central Agency’s anchor tenant, Lark, opened the doors to its new home December 4th after closing up shop at 12th and E Spring earlier this year. So far, chef/owner John Sundstrom said the reaction from his 12th Ave regulars has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We love the space,” he said. “It’s a little bit more of a grown-up experience.”
While Lark only added 16 more seats over its 12th Ave capacity, the staff has nearly doubled. Sundstrom said not straying far from Lark’s decade-in-the-making staple of Pacific Northwest dishes helped ease the transition.
Traces of the original Central Agency warehouse can be seen throughout the new restaurant — thick wood and steel beams, slatted floors, and vaulted ceilings exude the warm (but slightly less worn) ambience now familiar in auto-row preservation projects.
As part of the deal to become Central Agency’s anchor restaurant, Sundstrom agreed to take over three additional spaces in the building. The first to be activated was Bitter/Raw, which occupies a mezzanine space overlooking over Lark. The menu features amarro-focused cocktails and raw bar classics, including, oysters, clams, Dungeness crab, and sushi. Currently opening at 5 PM along with Lark, Sundstrom said Bitter/Raw will eventually bump up its open to 3 PM.
Next to Lark, Sundstrom is putting the finishing touches on Slab Sandwiches + Pie for a January open. The take-out only counter will offer espresso and a small selection of fine meats and cheeses, in addition to a rotating list of sandwiches and slab pies. The sandwich menu is still coming together, but a traditional cuban will likely be in the mix.
Finally, a basement space that Sundstrom is calling Off the Record (a nod to rumors that the building once stored FBI files) will be reserved for private events and occasional overflow seating for Lark. If the Seahawks clinch another Super Bowl berth, add OTR to the list of Capitol Hill viewing parties.
From a customer perspective, Sundstrom’s trio of businesses will be mostly independent. Behind the scenes, Sundstrom has orchestrated lots of cross over to maximize space and staff — a feat he was well suited to tackle after managing the W hotel restaurant for several years.
On Central Agency’s north side, the team behind Vancouver’s “man made sandwich shop” Meat & Bread are building-out their newest location towards a March opening. Sundstrom said he was initially concerned about a sandwich shop opening next-door to his, but he’s hoping Fremont’s recent sandwich slump could turn into Capitol Hill’s gain.
“Slab is only 5% of our business,” he said. “If Meat & Bread is a hit, it will only benefit us.”
Despite all that food+drink activity, there’s still one more vacant space left between Lark and Meat & Bread. Central Agency developer Jerry Everard said he is still searching for the right retail tenant to round out the building.
Back at Lark’s old 12th Ave. location, Eastside favorite Cafe Juanita is opening a 2-month pop-up while their restaurant undergoes renovation. Sundstrom, who still owns the old Lark space, told CHS he would be announcing a new venture come spring.
Lark and the Central Agency Building are located at 952 E Seneca. You can learn more at larkseattle.com.