Clouded downtown venture a rare dark spot as star Capitol Hill chef Stratton exits Spinasse

Stratton on a construction tour as Spinasse was prepared for expansion -- and its new little sister, Artusi

Stratton on a construction tour of the Spinasse expansion and its new little sister, Artusi

A fashionable Capitol Hill chef at the top of his culinary game is leaving the 14th Ave food and drink scene he helped create and a downtown venture that will partly cloud his exit.

“After leading Spinasse to great popular and critical acclaim over the course of six years, Jason Stratton has decided to move on to explore new opportunities,” an announcement sent by the public relations firm representing Spinasse, its sister bar Artusi, and downtown’s Vespolina read. “Jason will assist the staff in the transition for the next few weeks.”

The timing of the announcement has been a story unto itself in Seattle food and drink media outlets. “The announcement is particularly shocking considering Stratton was just announced as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Northwest for his work at Spinasse,” the Seattle outlet of the national Eater chain noted. Seattle Met reported Stratton is planning to travel in Spain before returning, presumably, to his longtime home turf on Capitol Hill.

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 2.58.15 PMBut Stratton is also faced with a nearly $90,000 judgement from a lawsuit brought last year by Dolan Built as the construction company fought in court for thousands of dollars it said it was owed for the buildout of Stratton’s downtown restaurant project.Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 3.05.05 PM

Last summer, Seattle’s foodies were also shocked by Stratton’s announcement that, after only eight months, his Spanish-flavored Aragona would flip over to a Northern Italian emphasis more like Spinasse. Not included in the press release was information on the newly dubbed Vespolina restaurant’s unusual and unusually deep-pocketed new owners: Jonathan Klein, co-founder and CEO at Getty Images, and Mikal Thomsen, a founding member of the Trilogy Equity Partners group.

The holding company owned by the new Vespolina partners was also named in a February court document along with Stratton as Dolan attempts to collect the $89,000 in change it is now owed after an agreement over the unpaid downtown work.

Stratton and the public relations representative for Vespolina have not yet returned our messages about the lawsuit.

While perhaps not generating the buzz of its early years, Spinasse has aged into a consistently busy and still highly regarded elder statesman of Pike/Pine food and drink with Stratton looking for new ways to expand his presence in the business. In 2011, Spinasse took over a neighboring retail space, expanding and adding its Stratton-designed Artusi bar sibling. 14th Ave has since developed a small restaurant row with the modernist street food of Nue and new-era Greek taverna Omega Ouzeri opening in recent months.

Spinasse’s chef role seems destined for a cycle of relatively dramatic departures. When founder Justin Niedermeyer abruptly left the buzzed-about restaurant in only its second year on 14th Ave, Stratton stepped out of the kitchen to lead Spinasse. Previously, he helped Jerry Traunfeld launch Poppy on Broadway. Stratton’s replacement will be Stuart Lane, “who has served as Chef de Cuisine in the kitchens at Spinasse and Artusi for the past two years, will assume the lead culinary role for those restaurants,” the statement on Stratton’s departure reads. The announcement does not name a new lead chef for Vespolina.

Longtime Spinasse manager Michael Galloway is remaining with the business. “Jason has raised the bar for northern Italian cuisine and fine dining in Seattle,” he is quoted as saying in the announcement on Stratton’s exit. “We are confident that the team that is in place will seamlessly continue the restaurant’s reputation for impeccable, Italian-inspired food and drink. I want to thank Jason for his amazing culinary contributions to our restaurants and on behalf of our owners and partners, we wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

Via Twitter @bambichronicles, CHS asked the social media-savvy Stratton if he plans to remain living on Capitol Hill. The Hill is “my home,” he said. “Unless someone gives me hella money.”

UPDATE 2/23/2015 6 PM: The public relations representative for Spinasse and Vespolina tonight replied to our messages from the weekend. Her answer: “I don’t have any information to add per your questions below.” Our questions: 1) Anything to add to what we’ve reported on the lawsuit? 2) Who owns Spinasse?

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15 thoughts on “Clouded downtown venture a rare dark spot as star Capitol Hill chef Stratton exits Spinasse

  1. I think I hear the sound of air coming out of the Seattle restaurant bubble. Going to be interesting to watch this train wreck unfold.

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