Here’s a business model for thriving in the rich but competitive Pike/Pine food and drink economy: Earn loads of friendships in your 20 years of experience in the Capitol Hill restaurant business and then build a place where all those friends will want to hang out.
Good luck to you!
But Thomas Soukakos has it down.
“I’m all about my friends,” Soukakos tells CHS summing up his two decades of Seattle food and drink experience as he prepared to open his new Omega Ouzeri Thursday on 14th Ave. “My friends will come here.”
Omega, Soukakos says, is the food and drink experience he has always wanted to create. Starting with El Greco on Broadway in 1994 and creating his two Vios restaurants took Soukakos on a path that in many ways mirrored his life with family and a cautious, humble approach to the restaurant business.
Success and time has Soukakos getting back to his dreams. Omega Ouzeri is a Greek restaurant and bar with a focus on traditional dishes and drinks, mixed with new flavors and a contemporary look thanks to Athenian designers A Future Perfect that is more present day Piraeus than Parthenon. “Everything is a piece of Greece,” he says, “rich in content.”
But even in getting back to his dream in big, open new space and with the experience of opening three restaurants already behind him, Soukakos isn’t taking chances with the business plan.
He admits seeing his friends have to shut down Le Zinc just around the corner at 15th and Pine definitely caused some anxiety. “Le Zinc? I was heartbroken,” Soukakos said. He also said Seattle’s changing permitting requirements and regulatory environment were a huge challenge, even for an experienced restauranteur. Soukakos also is well aware of the challenges the city’s rising minimum wage will create in keeping prices affordable. It will be challenging,” he said. “But consumers are going to have to pay for it. You can’t make it without people being paid more, though. Life is too expensive. Rent is high.”
Given the environment, it’s not surprising to see Omega is optimized to formulas honed in recent years by Capitol Hill “ethnic” restaurant ventures like Mamnoon or Mezcaleria Oaxaca — emphasize a social connection to the culture, create sharable menus to help make high quality offerings with high quality prices more affordable, and build around the bar and signature drinks.
At Omega Ouzeri, it’s ouzo — though, it just as easily could be tsipouro if tsipouro were easier to pronounce. The grappa shares equal billing with ouzo in the Omega cocktail list though enjoying over ice with your Greek fries seems like the proper way to play it. Enjoying a glass with CHS, Soukakos got us talking about more important things than restaurant concepts as the results from Greece’s elections begin to impact the rest of Europe. Soukakos hopes Omega can play a small role in reminding Seattle about the history and rich culture of his country even with its reputation sometimes recently battered by austerity measures and a flailing economy.
Open 3 to 11 daily, Omega’s menu runs from tzatziki, kopanisti and patates ($6) to kolkithokeftedes zuchini cakes, kessaria pie ($8) to kalamari, octopus, baked shrimp, or smoked trout ($12). There are also giant platters from $20 to $30 featuring items like a whole grilled fish, “street food” — gryro, pita, tzatziki, and grilled lamb chops and brisket. Two happy hours will run 3 to 5 and 10 to close. Omega will also boast what it says is a one of a kind “Greek only wine list.”
Omega’s chef Vironas Papatheodorou — or, Chef Byron as he calls himself — was born on the Greek Isle of Portland, Oregon but raised in Athens, Greece. Meanwhile, another trend in the optimized restaurant business plan, the newly prominent pastry chef role, brings Omega a surprisingly robust dessert roster — though we’ll probably still order the loukamades every time.
Omega will neighbor Italian siblings Spinasse and Artusi, recently opened global “modernist” street fare play Nue, and purveyor of PNW cool Porchlight.
Designed by Strata Architects and built by Metis Construction, the restaurant in the REO Flats development is huge at 110 tables, two bars, an open kitchen, and a mezzanine. But ever conservative, Soukakos plans to use the upper level of Omega as smartly as possible, closing it off if a night is slow, filling it with private events and parties on others. It will probably frequently be filled with his friends. “I love working, I love being in the kitchen,” he said. “To get everything done, I’ll need to go to the other places if all my friends are here.”
Though it’s not kid-friendly and there are no play pits, Soukakos’s Omega still has lots of family in it to go along with those friends. His son Alexander is now 13 and contributed some design and painting work to Omega’s mural. Wife Rebecca Soukakos is handling marketing and media and the endless list of things that go along with opening a new restaurant. Thomas said he and Rebecca were traveling a few years ago in Greece, talking about his dream project. He says she told him that day that, in two years, he could create Omega.
This week, he’s ready for his friends — and everybody else — to enjoy it.
“Finally, Capitol Hill has its own real Greek restaurant,” Soukakos said.
Omega Ouzeri is located at 1529 14th Ave and debuts Thursday, January 29th. You can learn more at omegaouzeri.com.
Capitol Hill food+drink notes
- It’s a busy week for openings. In addition to Omega, Stout will open Friday in the Sunset Electric building at 11th and Pine. CHS wrote here about the giant beer-focused “barstaurant” from the creator of the Tap House Grill.
- Also watch for Sur 16 which is finally ready for its debut on 15th Ave E in the old (and completely overhauled) Bagel Deli space.
- Here are more Capitol Hill bars and restaurants to look forward to in 2015.
- Last week was a busy week for beer. CHS broke some massive news as we were fast with the press release — and quick with the reporting — after global beer giant AB-InBev sucked up E Pike-born Elysian Brewing for what we’d bet is somewhere around $18 million. Here’s what everybody has said about the deal so far. We’ll have more on the story… soon.
- The city said goodbye to the original Kingfish Cafe over the weekend. We talked to the twin Coaston sisters about 18 years at 19th and Mercer here: “This was a bad idea,” Leslie remembered saying. “There is nobody out here.”
- The Kingfish, by the way, will hold a garage sale this week to clear the old restaurant space out.
- Chop Suey is about to be re-born as a music venue, sure, but also watch for news about the food and drink elements of the new Suey… soon.
- Closing in PDX: Via Trib. Expanding: Vita.
- No longer for sale: Crush.
- “In Washington, one of four states that allow recreational marijuana sales, a large cannabis bakery dedicated to affluent customers with good palates will soon open in Seattle…“
- Crowd-funding to create a 64-tap beer room on Capitol Hill: Growl64
- Go milt? “For those #adventurous eaters #blackcod #milt #momijiseattle”
- Former Poppy pastry chef Matt Bumpas is launching his dessert pop-up Sweet Bumpas.
- GSBA Business Leader of the Year: Linda Derschang
- Villa Escondida is looking for a new home.
- Cone & Steiner adding grilled cheese sandwiches.
- There’s a new ginger beer player in town.
- In case you missed it, E Olive Way is getting a sports bar.
- Details magazine’s “The Most Anticipated Bar Openings of 2015” includes this “Capital Hill” entry:
Herb & Bitter Public House
Opening: March or April
Bar manager Leroy Thomas, who also holds down the fort at Rocco’s, is building a drink menu for this Capital Hill restaurant emphasizing amari (bitter aperitifs, digestives, and ferniest), including a few vintage bottles. The European influence will also be reflected in the café-style seating and the glass-covered patio with retractable roof. The beverage program skews more American, with spirits like whiskey, gin, and brandy served from the barrels in which they originally aged.CHS wrote here last summer about the project from Seattle food and drink vet Jesus Escobar in the former Than Brothers space on Broadway.
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