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E Madison Crush house comes back to life with pop-up shaped Surrell

(Image: Surrell)

Aaron Tekulve (Image: Surrell)

The last food and drink startup to launch here has achieved great heights. A new project hopes to put the old Crush house just below the intersection of 23rd and Madison back into motion with a recipe of parties and events, private dining, pop-ups, and a limited schedule of restaurant service emphasizing Pacific Northwest wines and pairings.

It’s a schedule chef and owner Aaron Tekulve hopes allows Surrell to rise above the crush of the exhausting pace of maintaining daily restaurant service as we’ve known it.

“It’s really simple,” Tekulve said. “It’s the economics. It’s also burnout.”

The 117-year-old house once belonged to James A. Roston, an African-American labor negotiator. The Ship Scaler’s Local 541 building once stood to its west. Today, that property has become this four-story apartment building.

Meanwhile, the developers behind 19th and Mercer’s The Shea mixed-use project purchased the old Roston house that was home to Crush for just over 10 years and began a search for a new chef to put the old home become old restaurant back into motion. (UPDATE: We have corrected ownership of the Crush property. Sorry for the error.)

Surrell is planned to be open on a limited regular schedule — four, maybe five nights a week, Tekulve said. Other days and nights will be devoted to the much easier to plan, more economically feasible catering business, pop-ups and parties, and, yes down time.

“Going at it daily is like dead sprinting every day. You burn out everyone around you,” Tekulve said.

The house back in its Crush (and fancy real estate pictures) day

Seattle’s hugely competitive and expensive labor market also demands an approach that can work with a small, nimble team, Tekulve said.

“It’s very controllable,” Tekulve said. “We can add things over time.”

The path is similar to another recent occupant of the house. Eric Rivera’s experimental and innovative Addo was fine tuned on E Madison before he found a better stage for his creations in Ballard.

Tekulve is planning for a bigger investment in his E Madison launch pad. The old house is getting new hardwood floors and a new coat of paint. The same Crush modernist chairs are still there and might survive the upgrades.

Surrell’s birth as a pop-up and private dining business fit with Tekulve’s background. His days in a band prepared him for breaking down gear and packing it up for the next gig. Meanwhile, years with FedEx gave him an education in business and scale. Married in October, he is shaping Surrell as a way to build a more permanent model of the nomadic food and drink business he knows works best. The new world, he thinks, probably isn’t about “restaurants that last forever.”

“Chefs are experimenting with short durations,” Tekulve said.

With Surrell, he’s hoping to bring that endless change under control and give it an E Madison home.

Surrell — a family name, Tekulve said — is available now for rental and events and is planned to be open for wine and meals in February with a full tasting menu service starting in the spring. It is located at 2319 E Madison. You can learn more at

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1 year ago

…and this too shall pass.