The man who ran Capitol Hill’s old Benson’s Grocery has completed his dream of bringing the 1909-built corner store at E Pike and Bellevue into the new era of Pike/Pine’s food and drink economy.
After a year of construction — and years more of planning an bringing the project together — Noren Restaurant and Lounge is now open in the transformed space previously filled with shelves of chips, beer, and cat food.
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CHS found Hun “John” Lee and chef/owner Sotokawa Yu inside the transformed bodega last week as the new restaurant marked its first days on the street. The menu reflects Lee’s go for it attitude and Yu’s experience in larger kitchens handling all sorts of cuisines. It’s a Japanese restaurant with sushi and sake. But there are also sandwich and burger menus and, hey, why not, pasta dishes like Rigatoni Alla Boscalola and Spaghettini Al Pomodoro. You can also get a steak. And a highball.
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All of this plays out in an expansive, 4,000-square-foot restaurant with even more tables coming, Lee says.
Capitol Hill’s corner stores continue to be a mainstay of the local grocery scene. Though, slowly, they seem to be giving away to the neighborhood’s changes. Harry’s Fine Foods, which debuted in 2016, is another recent example of a corner shop being transformed into a neighborhood restaurant. Meanwhile, Carmelo’s Tacos shows that the quick marts can also make shelf space for some of the neighborhood’s best hidden — and hidden best — dining options.
Lee paid $3.1 million for his E Pike building in 2011 and has spent thousands more on the restaurant transformation. The transformation on the block predates his investment. Victrola Coffee kicked off the changes in 2005 as it overhauled an auto row-era garage into a roastery. Lee is also the landlord for Capitol Hill gay bar classic The Eagle next door. Will the investments pay off? With most other corners in the neighborhood like it crumbling down to make way for new development, Lee’s building has a new life without the disruptive changes that go along with a new mixed-use building. For this part of the neighborhood, that might add up to a different kind of solid return on investment.
Noren is located at 314 E Pike and is open daily from 11:30 AM to midnight. You can learn more at norensushi.com.