“New American, I guess, is the best descriptor for it,” chef Jesse Elliott said.
“Which just means the chef can make whatever he wants,” Lisa Tomlinson added.
She’s the chef’s wife — and part-owner and manager — at the new Olmstead set to open this weekend on Broadway in the overhauled space formerly home to the Broadway Grill.
CHS reported in July on the Broadway-changing news that the long-empty, endlessly speculated upon restaurant space would spring to new life under the wing of the family of food and drink loving folks who created Witness, the chicken, waffles, and mint juleps joint Gregg Holcomb opened in the summer of 2013 just a block away from the old Grill.
Thursday night before the planned weekend debut of the new Olmstead, Holcomb — known for his Witness sermons — was appropriately philosophical about the import of this Broadway moment.
“At Witness, I learned that when it’s successful, it ties in. I was thankful that it tied into the fabric. And so I realized how much each individual business on Broadway matters,” Holcomb said. “We’re really excited about this space we established, I think we’re actually trying to patch a hole in the neighborhood.”
The old restaurant in the middle of Broadway’s heart sat empty and untouched since the last incarnation of the Grill shuttered in April 2013, ending a 22-year run on the drag. A decrepit infrastructure and ungodly $15,000/month price tag kept it empty though a few projects gave the space a thought along the way before moving on.
Prolific Capitol Hill real estate investor Ron Amundson purchased the property from its longtime family owners earlier this year with plans for finding a new restaurant to move into the space. Holcomb told CHS he had looked at the space during its empty period “but it didn’t seem to have right vibe” under the previous owners. “I saw it changed hands and met with Ron, and finally signed the lease,” Holcomb said.
To prepare it for its new life, owners Holcomb, Elliott, and Tomlinson set about an overhaul that redid the old girl from her glossed-up cement floors to her atrium ceiling. With new wood paneling, a solid and bold paint job up front, and a conservatory-like overhaul for the old atrium to the right, the old restaurant space is now a complete circle of the finished sections of the old Grill: the front patio and long kitchen-fronting counter, the sunken atrium under glass and below the new built-out bar, and the backroom area now dedicated as the “sports bar” with shuffle puck and flat screen televisions. It was a big hole to patch in the Broadway fabric and Olmstead and its many pieces will try to fill it in.
With 160 seats, Holcomb says he hopes for a “50/50” mix of business for Olmstead on the food vs. booze end of things. Elliott’s kitchen is as big as Witness’s dining room — which he also helped shape along with Holcomb for the duo’s first match up. At Olmstead, the chef is also an owner. He says he’s bringing a diner sensibility to the mix with a kitchen that can turn out the chicken salad — and the vegetarian and vegan options.
“It’s approachable, slightly elevated,” Tomlinson said of Elliott’s menu.
“But honoring the Grill tradition, we’re trying to make sure that our price point is right in the middle,” Holcomb added.
Holcomb says he hopes Olmstead can serve as a “once a week or twice a week” destination instead of “just a special occasion place.”
The 50/50 food vs. booze receipts race should be a good battle. Lauren Darnell has joined up with Olmstead from The Hideout to lead the cocktail program behind the bar.
The new venture will hit the ground running with plans for brunch from the get-go starting this weekend that are sure to kick off those echoes of Broadway Grill past that will reverberate for many patrons.
The final name for the new project will also echo with history.
Olmstead is rendered with a meddling set of parentheses — Olmste(a)d. It is a reference to the many histories of the location — and the histories of us all in our collective unity, if you let Holcomb start sermonizing again. But it also a compromise of history. There is Roy Olmstead the former cop turned Capitol Hill bootlegger. And there is the Olmsted Brothers, the siblings who designed Volunteer Park and the original park around Lincoln Reservoir — the reservoir Cal Anderson Park capped — as part of a nationwide campaign of public space design. “My husband and I had a short list of names and Gregg had a short list of names,” Tomlinson said. “We were going through the short list. We both had Olmstead on the list, not realizing at first that we totally have different sources.”
The history had also taken its toll on the old building. But with new life and new owners working with the flaws and character of the old space, the hole in the middle of Broadway has been patched.
Olmstead will open this weekend at 314 Broadway E. You can learn more — soon — at olmsteadseattle.com.
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