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August 9, 2011 at 11:45 AM

To Marché, two Marchés: the Bainbridge restaurant

I’ve already told you about the restaurant Marché under construction in the old Campagne space in Pike Place Market. And now for part two of my Marché story. Chef Greg Atkinson, whose pretty prose and seasonal recipes regularly grace the pages of The Seattle Times, will soon have a French-influenced Restaurant Marché to call his own — on his home-turf, Bainbridge Island.

“Wait a minute!” you ask. “Didn’t you tell us Atkinson was hired as chef-exec at Kailash, the haute-falutin’ vegetarian restaurant reportedly opening this year in Rainier Square? Why, yes! Yes, I did. Like so many fine ideas, that one went sideways. But what was sad news for well-heeled vegetarians turned out to be great news for Atkinson.

Coming soon: Restaurant Marché, scheduled to open “late fall” at 150 Madrona Lane in the heart of Winslow. [Seattle Times/Dean Rutz]

What prompted the chef to finally take the plunge “was the debacle that was Kailash,” he explained. The deep pockets behind that project “were great people with a wonderful vision.” When they decided not to fund that vision, “I realized what had motivated me to go work for them was the idea of having my own kitchen again.” Contractual obligations required them to pay him for six months if the plan fell through, “which gave me a wonderful opportunity to pull together my financing and really carefully plan my own restaurant.”

Financial aid came from a dozen investors, among them 10 Bainbridge Island residents, and two others with strong Bainbridge ties. His landlords are redeveloping the building, providing upgrades including a raised roof and improved deck — adding two dozen warm-weather seats for the proposed 48-seat bistro in the center of Winslow, “things I could never afford to do,” said the chef.

Atkinson has famously put his seasonally inspired spin on the menu during seven years as chef-exec at Canlis, worked as food and beverage director at IslandWood on Bainbridge and more recently lent his expertise as chef-instructor at Seattle Central Community College’s Seattle Culinary Academy. The rise of Restaurant Marché marks the first time he’ll be running a kitchen as chef-owner. “I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant, but have just never had the right circumstance,” he admits. Circumstantial evidence suggests the time is right.

Atkinson sees this big move as a “practical next step” after decades in the business. “I’m on the other side of 50,” said the jack of all culinary trades who has penned a stack of cookbooks (and will soon publish another). “After living on Bainbridge for 15 years, I’m integrated in the community and have the support of the community and the [Seattle area] restaurant community at large. This seemed almost inevitable — and it’s kind of flowing that way too.”

Though wheels have been turning slowly on the permitting front (with major reconstruction along Winslow Way no doubt slowing things down at City Hall), Atkinson is already on the job. “I rented an office in the building next door so I can watch the construction,” he said. When it’s done, we can expect an interior design meant to evoke “a hybrid of a French bistro and a contemporary Pacific Northwest look.”

A beach walk with his wife and business partner, Betsy, who’ll manage the front of the house, inspired a color scheme derived from the natural environment. “A very swank little bar” with floor-to-ceiling windows should draw local imbibers. An island-based cabinetmaker will build the bar, banquettes and tabletops.

As its name suggests, Marché (French for “market”) will highlight local produce and other provisions, said Atkinson, a longtime proponent of sustainable sourcing who will do so here. The Bainbridge Island Farmers Market is only steps away. In less productive months, the menu will lean on classic French bistro items like frisee with lardons, steak frites and moules frites.

Greg Atkinson, seen in his natural environment, clutching local rhubarb (left), and bussing his wife Betsy on a trip to France. [photos courtesy Greg Atkinson]

Staffing the restaurant should not be a problem, insists the chef. “There’s a lot of really great talent on the island, and I have that amazing resource — the college. All of my students are clamoring to come work for me, which I love.” His son Erich, a Bainbridge high-schooler, is eager to lend a hand. Older son Henry is “waffling” about future commitment to the family business. “I wanted to create the opportunity for my kids to get involved, but I don’t know to what extent they’ll be involved,” dad said.

Recognizing that opening a restaurant is “a monumental task,” Atkinson’s convinced he’s on the right path with Marché. And if times get tough in this tough economy, he intends to do as they do in the small French towns where he’s garnered culinary knowledge and inspiration. “Betsy and I aways wanted a place that was small enough so that if we had really slow nights, just the two of us can do it.”

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