Imagine having nearly 20 years under your belt running your own restaurant — and then putting on the apron again in somebody else’s kitchen. For Carlos Kainz and Julie Guerrero, the return to life of their longtime love Dulces is also about being free again to create their own vision and run a restaurant business the way they believe it should be done.
“When you have become the owner of an establishment, it’s very difficult to work for anybody else,” Kainz says about as diplomatically as humanly possible about the year he spent working at a major downtown steakhouse as he and his wife Julie bided their time waiting for a new home where their Dulces Bistro could again take root.
After their 2011 exit from the restaurant’s original Madrona home, Kainz and Guerrero ended up on a frustrating Seattle food+drink entrepreneur odyssey. At one point, the Dulces re-creation was lined up for Broadway’s Joule building. Next came word that the new Dulces was destined for the Oola Distillery project where Zoe roosts now. Ultimately, after 19 years in business in Madrona, Dulces landed downtown on Western Ave. But by summer of 2012, Dulces was shuttered again.
“It was frustrating when we made the mistake of taking over the old Wild Ginger on Western Ave,” Kainz said. “We didn’t realize how bad the turnout was going to be.”
Kainz said the area around Western has changed so much and there is so much construction underway for the waterfront that Dulces could never gain a hold below Pike Place.
While the couple feel fortunate to have escaped the Western Ave situation with only a few regrets, there aren’t any regrets about the original decision to exit Madrona. Kainz said the neighborhood had changed enough with an influx of young families and the economic downturn changed everybody’s going-out-to-eat habits enough, that a European-flavored bistro looking and acting a little fancier than it really was didn’t quite fit into the neighborhood’s new rhythm. “I had one woman with kids call to cancel a reservation,” Kainz said. “‘We couldn’t come in, the restaurant is too nice for us,’ she said.”
With Western Ave safely behind them, Kainz and Guerrero hunkered down and kept their eyes and ears peeled for an opportunity that would give Dulces a new life in a more active dining environment — one where a relatively moderate average tab could sustain a mom and pop restaurant.
Kainz is a waiter, first and foremost, he says, so he went back to work at Ruth’s Chris. Chef Guerrero took a turn at another kitchen. Finally, they found the right kind of space on the edge of all the new energy on Capitol HIll but still close to their old home in Madrona. Only problem with the restaurant space below 19th and Madison’s Lawrence Lofts was that a handful of other restaurants also badly wanted the lease. Kainz said he lucked out thanks to a longtime customer — one of the building’s contractors was a regular at Dulces in Madrona. With some inside pull, Kainz and Guerrero were back in business.
“We don’t want to be a special occasion place,” Kainz said. “Our customers live above us here.”
An appreciation of density isn’t the only thing new for Dulces. Kainz said the new, post-downturn world means a focus on good value and less flair. Gone is one of the most broad selection of wine in the city. “Seven years ago, we used to have largest wine list on West Coast,” Kainz said. “2,500 labels.” The new Dulces wine list is pared down and focused only on affordable pours most worth the money. “Our most expensive glass of wine is $9,” Kainz said.
The Dulces kitchen, though, with Guerrero at the helm, hasn’t changed much — still seasonally focused and only a splurge if you want it to be. Kainz says any entree can be cut in half if you’re not up for the $30 Paella Catalana or $26 Corn Masa Seafood Crepes. The new Dulces world also has cocktails.
More change will come slowly. The restaurant’s first weekend of business consisted of “probably 90%” regulars from the Madrona days. Kainz is hoping for more Lawrence Lofts residents to drop down and Pike/Pine revelers to make the walk down E Madison. At 56, he is back inside his own restaurant. You’ll find him waiting tables, of course.
“If the restaurant does really, really well, maybe in 10 years we have somebody manage it for us,” Kainz said. But for now, the two Seattle restaurant veterans are back to work the best way they know how — Guerrero in the kitchen and Kainz, front of house.
“Some of these guys have multiple locations, chains,” Kainz said. “If you only have one, that’s your baby.”
Dulces is located at 19th/Madison. You can learn more at dulcesbistroandwine.com.
Capitol Hill food+drink notes
- What? 12th Ave’s sprawling Von Trapp’s isn’t big enough? Work is underway on a “north building and outdoor seating area on existing commercial site,” according to permits.
- Brand spanking new juice bar Juicebox is open on 12th Ave. Have you been? She has.
- Want to be Linda D’s right-hand
man womanperson? “Exceptional communication skills and the ability to relate to a wide range of people.”
- Also hiring: Shibumi —
Prep cook who has folded Gyoza
We will be open Monday through Saturday for dinner only. Applicants must have experience and a resume with references. Interest in or familiarity with Japanese cuisine, and culture is a plus.
CHS wrote about the new restaurant here.
- Plenty of Capitol Hill including Poppy, Chico Madrid, Crumble & Flake and Le Zinc in “The 50 Best Things I Ate This Year”
- One way to break the news — congrats to the Artusi barman:
- Among the “12 biggest restaurant trends of 2013,” southern food: “The evidence Biscuit sandwiches at The Wandering Goose, fried chicken at the just-about-to-open Bourbon and Bones, beignets at the brand-new Roux, Carolina BBQ at Bar Sue, buttermilk fried chicken and waffles at Witness.”
- What’s going on at the Comet? We’ll have more on the work by the new owners, soon.
- Want to have somebody else worry about your Thanksgiving feast? Here are some Capitol Hill options for Turkey Day dinners.
- Thursday (11/21), many people’s pick for rookie of the year Mamnoon turns 1:
- At the Pine Box: “December 8th – Our Fancy Holiday Beer Dinner with Chef Scott Carsberg and Rare Beers from Shelton Brothers Imports”
- At Altura: December 8th “EPIC ALBA WHITE TRUFFLE DINNER”
- Two more Capitol Hill food and drink spots trading car parking for bike parking. Meanwhile, Von Trapp’s also knows how to do bike-friendly load-in.
- ICYMI, gluten free Nuflours bakery is opening on 15th Ave E in 2014.
- Guess who:
“I got here in 1977,” says the cook who as a kid followed Julia Child the way other boys followed baseball. “My first restaurant job was at the Canterbury (on 15th Avenue East), believe it or not. I made nachos with canned chili.”
- Rione XIII – “Lumacha De Castagna”… the movie…
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