Kristi Brown and her son Damon Bomar live and work at their home on Beacon Hill. A few miles away in the Central District, their restaurant planned to open in the summer of 2019 is under construction as part of the new Liberty Bank Building at 24th and Union.
With success building a catering business with That Brown Girl Cooks, Brown’s 30 years of cooking experience will finally find a permanent spot in a neighborhood she considers part of her home turf.
Brown calls her cooking style Seattle Soul.
“I’d say that Seattle Soul is rooted in soul food, innovated upon by the influences here in Seattle,” Bomar said. “We don’t like to call it fusion, because we’re not necessarily melding actual recipes, but it’s more about taking different ingredients and utilizing them in the recipes we have.”
The new restaurant will be on the ground floor of the Liberty Bank Building and while it looks like two separate restaurants are being built, Brown says that the space on the left will be a robust commercial kitchen while the space to the right will seat up to 64 including the bar and chef’s table.
For now, they’re keeping the name of the new joint under wraps.
Brown and Bomar see the new restaurant project as a type of validation with respect coming from others in the restaurant industry. They are excited about the restaurant, but for different reasons. Bomar sees an opportunity for consistency while Brown is simply excited to stop traveling with her food.
“I finally get somebody to come to me, instead of me coming to them,” she said. “That’s a big deal. Also the respect factor, not just the industry, but the general public. The restaurant has so much more acclaim.”
She hopes for a diverse set of customers.
“I think that one of the most important thing for the space is that we service a lot of people from different backgrounds, and it’s really important to us that everyone feels comfortable,” Brown said. “If there’s anybody in Seattle that can do it, it is us. We have a special place in the Black community that not many other Black chefs have. We also have a place in so many other communities because of the catering that we’ve done and in being active in so many organizations personally, that I feel like we’ve reached a huge audience.”
“My idea is that the homie be able to sit with the millionaire and everybody have a good time. That’s important to me.”
The Liberty Bank Building will open in 2019 as a six-story, 115-unit affordable housing development on the corner once home to the region’s first Black-owned bank.
Pacific Communications Consultants. a Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise-certified management consulting firm, has been working with nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing, Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance, and Byrd Barr Place to help local businesses be part of creating the project.
When the Liberty Bank Building opens in 2019, it will also feature local, Black-owned businesses. In addition to the planned restaurant, the legendary Earl’s Cuts is set to move across E Union to make way for redevelopment of the Midtown block.
Working with Wyking Garrett of Africatown and building developer Capitol Hill Housing, Brown says she feels supported from both her community, and CHH. The support is helping the first time restaurant owners through the difficult processes around business and permitting issues.
“We talk about it a lot, but being on that same corner as where Ms. Helen’s was, Thompson’s, it’s such an honor to me,” Brown said. “The reason I started That Brown Girl is because I wanted something to pass down to my children, I knew the rising cost of housing, I wasn’t sure if I’d have land to pass down, and I knew the next best thing was to provide them with a way to make money for themselves.”
Brown first cooked at a corner cafe in 1988 in the Bon Marche where Macy’s is located today. “It was an all black crew, which was interesting being in the midst of Seattle,” she said. “They would have little soul food touches. It was a regular cafe with soups and sandwiches, but they had hot links and did different specials during the holidays.”
The mother and son team hope to grow as a Seattle institution in their own right with Bomar joining his mother’s operation to work as the general manager, bar manager, and bartender at her new restaurant. Bowmar’s previous experience came from a monthly pop-up called Midnight Mecca with chef Tarik Abdullah where a six course meal is paired with Bomar’s selection of cocktails.
“That’s been my medium of practice over the past year. I also do an offshoot brand of the business called Brown Liquor where I focus on punch-based cocktails,” Bomar said.
While Bomar will be behind the bar, Brown herself might not be in the kitchen all the time. “I am the executive chef, but we want to make sure we have the comfort of what I bring to the dining room as well as the food from the kitchen, so I’ll be playing both hostess and chef.”
Brown says she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri as the youngest of six children and didn’t eat out much as a kid. “Although the same for a lot of people my age, eating McDonald’s was a big deal. My parents cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so they definitely were my first influences, along with my grandmother, who was an excellent cook. She also baked, so we got a full spectrum of specialty things.”
Brown says one of the great things about her grandmother’s cooking was how “she could make something simple taste spectacular.”
Bomar, meanwhile, grew up with his mother’s cooking, of course, but says other dining opportunities were close by. “Yeah, I ate her cooking, but I also grew up 5 minutes outside of Chinatown, so we were always eating within that area, and we were always trying different things,” he said. “I grew up right off of Cherry, which is where a lot of Ethiopian restaurants are.”
Fans of That Brown Girl Cooks will find plenty of familiarity on the new restaurant’s menu.
“The catering food that she cooks right now is different than the more smaller plates that she’ll cook at home, but the essence is the same,” Bomar said. “The way she approaches it is the same.
“One thing I like about that is that you can’t mix textures in catering,” Brown said. “I can’t make you soup and put something fried on top of it.”
Brown has big ideas for the new location and plans for a focus on sustainability and opportunities to utilize whole animals, another element she’s excited about beyond the limits of catering.
From humble beginnings making hummus out of black eyed peas and selling it at farmers markets, Brown says she has developed a strong connection with a multitude of farmers, growers, and producers. “I am looking forward to finally being able to use it.”
The new restaurant is slated to open in summer of 2019. In the meantime, you can pick up their black eyed pea hummus at Central Co-Op, PCC, and Whole Foods. You can learn more at thatbrowngirl.com.
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