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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

May 24, 2010 at 4:35 PM

Holly Smith on Capitol Hill brew-haha: “Chill, already!”

I could hear Holly Smith’s eyes rolling over the phone Sunday when I called to ask about the news that’s hit the blogosphere. What? You haven’t heard? Then obviously you haven’t read this beer-blog post. Or this post, from the Capitol Hill Seattle blog. I hadn’t either. But when the news was sent my way I went straight to the source and asked: “Yo, Holl: What’s this about you and a brewpub on Capitol Hill?”

“Oh, for God’s sake!” said Smith, the West Coast wonder who kicked Cat Cora’s butt on a recent Iron Chef challenge. (You may know her better as the chef who owns one of the region’s top-rated restaurants, Cafe Juanita). Clearly fed up with what she called “the rumor mill,” Smith told me she’d rather wait until the deal’s a done-deal before trumpeting her plans for a new project. But now that those plans are out in the open . . .

Word that she’s opening a “high-end brewpub” at 1000 East Pike Street is incorrect, she said. “And despite what I’m reading, it won’t be a gastropub.”

That gastropub-thing’s nothing but gas, says iron-fisted Kirkland chef Holly Smith. As for that 9000-square-foot space on Capitol Hill? It’s not a done deal till it’s a done deal! [photo: courtesy Food Network].

In fact, whatever she does (or doesn’t) do, “It’s something, I’d argue, that would be unique.” And exactly what she does depends on where the project lands, with a “50/50” chance the Pike Street location may fall through. “At this point, there’s no signed deal,” she said, noting that she and her business partners (more on them in a minute) are “at the mercy of a seismic upgrade.”

The landlord, Hunters Capital LLC, is negotiating with the City of Seattle regarding the particulars of the upgrade, explained Smith, and as of today she and her partners are “completely in the dark” regarding its extent, cost and timetable, all mitigating factors when it comes to signing on the dotted line. “We’re waiting to get the definitive answer from the landlord and the city, and I hope to get that answer soon,” she said, pointing out that man behind the land is Mike Malone — the name behind Seattle’s Sorrento Hotel.

Mike Malone — shaking things up for, and with, Holly Smith and company.

Smith has long wanted to open a second restaurant, and she’s hot on doing so on Capitol Hill. “It’s one of the highest-density areas around. People are always out and about,” she told me. As an outsider looking in, she said, capitalizing on Capitol Hill real estate originally had her “worried,” but she’s recognized its potential. “I feel like Seattle needs a restaurant district, and on Capitol Hill the competition is awesome. I’m looking to create and be part of a community where people go out every night and keep trying new things, patronizing restaurants, music stores — Elliott Bay Book Company is a big draw for me.”

It helps that her partners have a solid bead on the neighborhood. Quentin Ertel owns the Capitol Hill boozeries Havana and The Saint, while Eric Hentz is the designer/contractor behind handsome hangouts like Cafe Presse and Spinasse. So, how did this hookup come down?

“I’ve know Quentin for a long time,” said Smith. “But it was Eric who brought us together” as a team. Hentz, a longtime Cafe Juanita patron, designed and built Ertel’s nightclubs and recently did an extensive remodel at Smith’s home. “He knows how both of us deal with big financial decisions,” she said. “I think it’s an interesting fit.”

Today Ertel told the Slog the trio’s plans are for a restaurant and brewery on the corner of 10th and Pike with an ETA of “about eight months.”

The restaurant and brewery part are true, Smith admitted late this afternoon, rolling her eyes through the phone again at the news that her brewery project business-partner divulged details she’d have rather he’d kept under wraps — for now.

“Everyone’s intentions are great,” she said, insisting again that the ink’s not dry on the deal. “There are a billion spaces out there, and some of them are still on the table if this falls through.”

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