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February 23, 2010 at 9:57 AM

Janke-watch: Matt’s in the market for new restaurant

It’s not uncommon these days to see former restaurant-owners tending bar, tables and kitchens while they wait for their ship to come in during a search for a new venue. Which is why Seattle’s fooderati have spotted Marjorie’s Donna Moodie at How to Cook a Wolf, sushi chef Yutaka Saito at Mistral Kitchen and Matt Janke, late of Matt’s in the Market, working at Bastille and Wild Ginger.

Janke, whose name remains synonymous with a beloved restaurant he no longer owns, has been in the market for a new restaurant — figuratively if not literally — for many months. “I’m in the Catch-22 of needing the lease to get my investors, while needing investors to get my lease,” he told me earlier in the game. Like others before him, he had his eye on the former Market Street Grill-spot in Ballard. And though he came close to inking a deal there, he says, instead he’s bucking the neighborhood-restaurant trend. Today he’s planning to do what few other independent restaurateurs are doing: opening a downtown restaurant.

Last week Janke signed a letter of intent on a restaurant space within walking distance of Matt’s in the Market, but since the lease remains unsigned, and I’m fond of restaurant guessing games, I’m not saying where. You, on the other hand, can feel free to play the game — or prove your mettle as a know-it-all — in my comments box.

His plan is to open a 65-seat restaurant with his friend and business partner Jill Buchanan. The pair worked together at il Bistro back in the day — before Buchanan left to open Sun Valley’s il Naso. A year or so ago, explains Janke, she sold her share in the business and moved back to Seattle. When they ran into each other at a party. “She said, what are you up to? Should we talk?” he recalls. Next thing you know they were out looking for a restaurant to call their own. Exactly what they’ll call it is still under negotiation.

“I’ll have my hand in the cooking, like I did at Matt’s,” Janke says, and together he and and his new partner will operate the restaurant. “I’ll hire the best people I can,” he says, insisting that some of them will be familiar faces. (From Matt’s? We’ll see.) As for the menu? “I’ll do what I always did: food. If you want to name it, it’s Northwest regional.”

If his lease gets signed and things go as planned (an “if” Janke knows better than most can sometimes be a big one) he hopes to open the new restaurant by June. “As soon as we have a few more details set, [I] will begin to blog again to keep you up to date,” he wrote in an e-mail sent this week to folks on his watch-list. “I look forward to feeding you some time in the very near future.”

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