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Meet Eric Stapelman, the man bringing Shibumi Ramenya to Capitol Hill

New Mexicans enjoying the original Shibumi Ramenya

New Mexicans enjoying the original Shibumi Ramenya

The list of professions where one can profit while being an unmitigated asshole shrinks by the minute: rock stars, neighborhood news bloggers and, if you believe reality television, executive chefs. Not choosing that path — and actively rejecting it — should earn a level of admiration.

“It’s so long ago. Things have changed so dramatically,” new Capitol Hill restaurateur Eric Stapelman tells CHS about our introduction to the neighborhood of the New York-to-Santa Fe-to-Seattle transplant and his Shibumi Ramenya project.

“If people want to dig it up — It’s not a part of who I want to be.”

Instead of mucking about in the gossip of Sex in the City girlfriends and the mercurial love-and-hate buzz the 55-year-old chef, entrepreneur and natural movement adherent generated in his time in dusty Santa Fe, New Mexico, Stapelman seems to be a forward-looking spiritualist — who just happens to have put his professional expertise in traditional Japanese tavern-style izakaya cooking to work as a celebrity chef to several sorry-we-can’t-reveal-names stars.

He comes to Seattle after deciding to sell his successful restaurants and leave Santa Fe in a moment of spiritual refreshment.

A few years back when an injury and stress conspired to balloon the restaurant owner’s weight more than 100 pounds, Stapelman said turned to wilderness training to help get back in shape. Years of training helped Stapelman take the weight back off and brought him to discover the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

“I spent three days training five hours a day in Discovery Park, Volunteer Park and I just really enjoyed my time here,” Stapelman tells us of a January training visit he made to Seattle as part of his dedication to a natural movement fitness program.

After the Pacific Northwest training, Stapelman returned to the hubbub of Santa Fe where the economic recovery has been slower, bad vibes were still wafting about over things like a “fragrance policy” and he said he’d started to sour on the aging demographics of his clientele. Refreshed from his time in Seattle, his training coach told him he had never looked better and, Stapelman says, told him to sell his restaurants and start fresh in Washington.

“At my age, I want to do what I love doing,” Stapelman said.

Choosing Capitol Hill was easy. Stapelman said he prefers to walk everywhere and his place on the edge of First Hill puts the new ramenya, soon to begin construction at 13th and Pine, well within his range.

“I love the whole neighborhood. I discovered Spinasse when I was up there and I try to eat there once a week,” Stapelman says of his new neighbors. “I want to be part of a community of great chefs.”

By mid-December, Stapelman plans to recreate his Shibumi Ramenya — which he says thrived for more than three years in Santa Fe — in the new The Collins apartment building under construction on upper E Pine.

Stapelman foraging the bounty of the Pacific Northwest (Image: Courtesy Eric Stapelman)

Stapelman foraging the bounty of the Pacific Northwest (Image: Courtesy Eric Stapelman)

He is working with Suyama Peterson Deguchi to design the compact space that will house the bar and restaurant. Yoshi Stang, discovered working in another restaurant during Stapelman’s winter visit to the area, will manage. The menu belongs to Stapelman and will focus on “Japanese tavern food, almost like tapas.”

“I love making traditional izakaya,” he said. “It’s the food that I love to do more than anything.”

The bad vibes of the past? Stapelman has already moved well beyond. “I don’t want to get mixed up in the fray,” he says, telling CHS he could have retired with the money from his New Mexico restaurant sales. Instead his outlook is “to be humble in serving food.” He wants to continue a commitment to supporting nonprofits which he says has generated more than $400,00 for nonprofits over the years. He wants to cook and forage for Olympic Peninsula mushrooms and eat at great Capitol Hill restaurants and workout in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Will there be a fragrance policy at Shibumi Ramenya?

“I don’t think we’re going to need it in Seattle,” Stapelman said.

You can learn more on the Shibumi Ramenya Facebook page.

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27 thoughts on “Meet Eric Stapelman, the man bringing Shibumi Ramenya to Capitol Hill

  1. Next time when you have a chance to interview him, please ask him about the name “Shibumi”. To Japanese, it doesn’t sound so appetizing…

    • Wikipedia
      Shibui (渋い) (adjective), shibumi (渋み) (noun), or shibusa (渋さ) (noun) are Japanese words which refer to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Like other Japanese aesthetic terms, such as iki and wabi-sabi, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion.

      Other translations
      1. shibumi = astringency
      2. shibumi = good taste
      3. shibumi = refinement

      Whatever the translation I’m stoked for great izakaya on the Hill!

      • I’m really looking forward to it, too.
        But to most Japanese people, “shibumi” means stinging bitterness in your mouth. “Shibui” *can* mean sophistication, but nobody uses it for food for that meaning. So “shibumi ramen” makes me think of bitter ramen.

      • Exactly.

        It’s all about context, and here it means “bitter ramen”.

        Not expected to draw the native Japanese crowd I assume.

  2. Thank you CHB for shedding light on what Shibumi is about and what my goal is in Seattle & on the Hill.
    Thank you TMinus for the clarification.
    “Shibumi” , to achieve a state of personal awareness that inspires achieving a higher state of being. Never truly attainable due to the quest not the result.
    After six months of R&D, I am delighted by the level of sophistication in the food world here and in particular on the Hill.
    I intend to do what I love doing, cooking!
    I’ll do my best to bring the passion & tradition of old world Japanese cooking & libation to our guests.
    Toshiro Stang, from Kagoshima, a prefectire on the island Kyushu, will be managing the restaurant and bringing rare delights only found in his home “town”.
    I will update the FB page and show glimpses of the menu and features of the Sake & Shochu list.
    Looking forward to meeting many new friends & restaurant enthusiasts

      • RealityBites,
        Thank you. I could not have said it more succinctly. VH1, alleged former employees….. I cant wait for Jackie Gleason to weigh in on this.

    • Yes, Eric was controversial in Santa Fe. But I can say that he was EXTREMELY generous to the local non-profits, and he served fabulous food.

  3. “things like a “fragrance policy” and he said he’d started to sour on the aging demographics of his clientele.”

    It’s ironic he’d be an ageist. Judging from his picture I’d guess he’s around 45. That’s not exactly young, especially for that part of the Hill.

  4. Thought this was an article about the opening of a remarkably good restaurant in a new locale and the ability of its chef…?
    If so, I can vouch that our time at the Santa Fe incarnation of Shibumi Ramenya delivered one delightful savory course after another and sent us home well fed. Properly, yet casually served simple fine ingredients delicately prepared and nicely plated; we found it a best value experience in that town.
    As for some of these other non-issues: I don’t consider the hearsay social life of a chef, a symphony conductor, or a prima ballerina to have any creditable place in an informative critique of performance.

  5. Can we please give the man at least a chance before we knock him down? People make mistakes, people change, let’s move on. The restaurant world is tough so if he ends up being a jerk or the food’s not good, the lack of customers and loss of busines will speak for themselves. There aren’t many good Japanese restaurants in Seattle aside from Maneki’s or good sushi at Shiro’s (Tanaka-san was a huge disappointment), so I’m looking forward to what I hope will be good quality Japanese food, a clean restaurant, and friendly staff.

    • Don’t forget Tsukushinbo in the ID. Family owned and operated, the food is traditional, simple and delicious. The service is knowledgable, friendly and courteous.
      And one of my favorites, Nishino! Always amazing quality.
      Just a simple opinion from the “outsider”.

  6. i’m very curious as to why he’s holding that mushroom in the photo. it sure looks like a russula brevipes, which is not a delicious mushroom. if he thinks it’s a matsutake, it would make me nervous to eat mushrooms at his restaurant.

  7. “…started to sour on the aging demographics of his clientele,” eh? Well I guess I know where I won’t be going to eat.

    MKK–61 year old Hill resident

  8. In case anyone who’s never lived in Santa Fe is wondering what this no perfume thing is all about. Here’s the deal, its hot there and to mask the sweat, women (especially older women who grew up before there was air conditioning everywhere) are in the habit of slathering on the perfume. I suspect their nose sensors must get dulled to it over the years as they put on enough to asphyxiate any normal person, but that’s what they do. A lot of places have signs up about it but no one actually does anything when these people come in and fumigate the entire place. There’s no doubt this recurrent scenario finally got to this guy, but its not total craziness, and any normal person from Seattle would totally get it.

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  11. FYI- Toshiro Stang is not managing. As a matter of fact, there is not one Japanese person on the crew. Even the Asian hostess/waitress is for show. I’m not saying you have to be Japanese to prepare/serve authenic Japanese food.
    I am saying the food was not very good and there is very little that is authentically Japanese.

  12. I would have to agree with the comments above. A little surprised but in the end not. I expected better from you E all the way round. Time will tell.
    “Nemo vir est qui mundum non reddat meliorem”~ pay attention E