In the midst of the Capitol Hill food+drink economy’s boom, one chef/owner is admitting he made the wrong call.
“I’m a fighter,” Eric Stapelman tells CHS. “I could have just given up.”
Instead, Stapelman says that after just over a year of business on E Pine, he is going to turn his troops around and choose a new flag to fight under.
Saturday, August 1st will be the final night for Stapelman’s Shibumi, the Japanese-faithful restaurant concept he brought to Seattle in his move from Santa Fe. By Tuesday, August 4th, Stapelman says the restaurant will become Vivre, his new concept based along classic French bistro lines.
“Some of the first foods that I was cooking were French,” Stapelman, who sprang to a kind of fame as a celebrity chef in New York City, said. “I love simplicity and I love bistro food.”
“I wanted to be more of a destination restaurant.”
The change comes as Naka and chef/owner Shota Nakajima establishes itself on E Pine only two blocks away and replaces another fallen warrior in the great Capitol Hill restaurant wars of the 2010s, French joint Le Zinc which pulled out after only 18 months of business and despite veteran Seattle restaurant leadership.
But Stapelman said he was ready to forge new battle plans even before the players on the street made their changes. “For me it’s not about the competition,” Stapelman said. “I like to do what I like to do which is cook great food.”
“I wanted to be more of a destination restaurant,” Stapelman said of his original hopes for Shibumi.
But Stapelman says he picked the wrong strategy for the Seattle battleground. “Why would people want to come try to park on Capitol Hill when they can eat in their own neighborhoods?”
He also apparently underestimated just how mercenary local guerrilla forces are. Stapelman claims Capitol Hill’s new population of tech workers is too transient to build into a loyal army of regulars. “It’s very difficult with all the 5-over-1 (buildings) and short, three-month leases,” Stapelman said. “Shorter leases. High rents. Bouncing around.”
Meanwhile, rent on Capitol Hill for restaurateurs, too, is exorbitant.
Stapelman’s solution with Vivre will be a neighborhood focused, moderately priced bistro with price points for classic elements like french onion soup or frisée salad for around $10 or $11 and entrees topping out around $17 to $20. The simplified approach will also have a much lower overhead than the labor intensive Shibumi with its never-ending appetite for fresh fish from the market. Pair it all with affordable bottles of wine, and Stapelman hopes to give his diners a night out in Pike/Pine for around $25 a person.
The change in format will include Stapelman’s existing staff — everybody, he says, but the sushi chef. French sushi just hasn’t caught on.
For Stapelman, the change is part of his decades of cooking for a living. He’s been through format changes like this before with his previous restaurant starting French for four years, going Italian for five, and then finishing out with a last gasp of French before his move to Seattle. “What I did in Santa Fe is I closed on a Saturday night and on the following Tuesday we made the change,” Stapelman said. For the restaurant veteran, the change in tactics will be a familiar part of continuing the fight.