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September 24, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Gad Zeeks! — in Issaquah: city councilman-to-be talks pizza

Say the word “pizza” (as I have, recently), and you’ll get people talking. But will it get folks buying condos in the Issaquah Highlands? The brain trust at Incolo hopes so and sent me a news-release today detailing the offer. During a fall promotion, they’re giving away a year’s worth of Zeeks Pizza to anyone who takes a Starpoint condo off their hands.

That’s approximately a $1000 incentive explained Mark Mullet, owner of the new Zeeks in the Highlands, when I called to get his take on the creative ways in which real estate agents are attempting to lure buyers to this “urban village.” Mullet was more than happy to oblige the creative minds who came up with the promo.

That’s a large pizza a week, diner’s choice, says the Zeeks franchisee, who’s new to the pizza-purveying game. “People who live in those condos are in the restaurant a lot. They come in all the time,” he said of the denizens of the mixed-use complex housing 92 residential condos.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about Zeeks. So long, in fact, I wasn’t even aware co-founders Tom Vial and Doug McClure, owners of six Seattle locations, were franchising (the first resides in Kirkland). But I do recall the first time I tasted their Thai-One-On pizza — at the first (and then only) Zeeks near Seattle Pacific University.

It was the spring of 1995, and I later described that phad-Thai-ified pie in a review as “perhaps the most ridiculous marriage of ingredients one would ever expect to find on a pizza.” I loved it.

By the time Vial and McClure opened their first Zeeks, Mullet — a native Seattleite, UW graduate and former managing director for Bank of America — had moved out of town. He’s since lived in London where he appreciated the pub culture, and in Connecticut, where he had an hour-long train commute to his job in NYC. Now living in the Highlands with his wife and three young children (another’s on the way), he’s overjoyed to be part of this experiment in suburban living. “My commute now, which is three blocks, is a little easier to deal with.”

As owner of the 100-plus seat pizzeria and bar he manages 38 employees and runs interference as problems arise. He spoke to me today from Home Depot where he was picking up a freezer for the restaurant.

Becoming a pizzeria owner was “just random,” says Mullet. In November, he and his wife took their girls to the Pacific Science Center and afterward, to pizza at the nearby Zeeks. Impressed with the bustling pizzeria, “I called the guys who owned it and talked about opening a Zeeks in Issaquah.” On the ground-floor of the Highlands’ Starpoint condo-complex was a prime commercial spot: a short-lived cafe and pizzeria. Boom! Mullet was in business. As for living and working in the master-plan community, he says, “I love it.”

The Highlands were “built with the idea of creating an urban setting in a non-urban environment: 7000 people live in 2600 homes and 400 apartment-type dwellings” — which helps account for 240 pizzas he sold Friday night. And the fact that among Zeeks eight outlets, his does more pick-up trade than any other location.

“The lifestyle isn’t for everyone,” says Mullet of the know-your-neighbor lure of the urban village. “It doesn’t work for some people, obviously, but if you thrive on community” — as he does — the interaction is an obvious plus. Like him, many of his neighbors are former Seattleites with young families.

“They’re so happy to have places like Zeeks and Caffe Ladro,” where they can quickly get a taste of the city, whether that’s a slice of a Tree Hugger pizza or a latte from a cafe they’ve been frequenting since they were living la vida solo on Queen Anne or Capitol Hill. As a franchisee, Mullet gets his pizza dough from Zeeks Central in Seattle. “They make it all at the secret Bat-dough cave and deliver it daily to all the stores,” he jokes. He buys other ingredients from the same external suppliers, ensuring a sense of familiarity to those who crave Frog Belly and Grand Salami pizzas.

Mullet’s building his business with five TVs and specials meant to draw the ballgame crowd. “Our promo is if you wear team gear you get happy-hour pricing during game-time.” He’s proud to wear purple, but neighbors hoisting a brew for their alma matter wore other colors during a recent Notre Dame/Michigan football game. Great fun was had by all.

“If you enjoy talking to people, being in the restaurant business is great,” says Mullet. “When my wife and I would eat out in New York, I was always curious, looking around in a place where there are 80-90 people and wondering, `What’s their story?'” Now, as a professional schmoozer, he knows. And he’ll continue to get an earful: He’s running unopposed for a seat on the Issaquah City Council.

From where he sits as owner of a neighborhood pizzeria and bar, Mullet says he’s in a position to hear about neighborhood concerns early on. “When the city decided to ban dogs from a local dog park, I heard about that long before the newspapers reported it,” he recalls. Feeding the neighborhood, he says, “You get a lot of feedback about what’s going on in Issaquah.”

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