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All You Can Eat

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

October 11, 2012 at 5:30 AM

Why Tom Douglas keeps opening restaurants (and a sundry store?!)

Via6 Sept 2012 media.jpg

I caught up with Tom Douglas Thursday for more details on the 10,000-square-foot space he’s leased in the Via6 apartment complex being built at Sixth and Lenora. As we noted Wednesday, he’s planning four new eateries — a restaurant called Grange Hall, plus a bakery, coffee cafe, and an “urban market’ with his own line of prepared foods.

When I reached Douglas by phone — he’s in New York, taping an episode of The Martha Stewart show — I had to ask the obvious question first: With a dozen (depending how you count them, maybe more) restaurants already to his name, why add on another handful of projects?

“We always like to work on some new projects, and we love to maintain our existing projects. It’s always staying challenged… that’s just my nature. I like new stuff,” he said.

The Via6 project “is an unusual space” that offered “some new angles” for his company, he said. “It’s right in our little turf area there, there are 700 apartments, and there are some things we’ve been wanting to try that are out of the core restaurant business.”

“It’s a little bit of an amalgamation, a little bit of a hall like a food court in some ways,” he said.

Details: The new line of prepared foods at the complex’s market will include “a little bit of everything from the restaurants,” from Cuoco pasta to soups and meatballs and entire dinners. The plan is to pack some in reusable containers so apartment-users can put down a deposit, return the dishes and get the deposit back. For now, the prepared foods will just be at Via6, though he’d consider branching out if it goes well. “It’s going to be a great test area for us to see how we can maybe take our business in a couple different directions.” Douglas’s radio show with Thierry Rautureau will move to the theater room at the complex, which has a small recording studio as well as a kitchen. The bread-baking operation at South Lake Union will move to the new space, though the rest of the bakery there will stay put. “The biscuit bar has gone crazy, so they’re putting a lot of pressure on the baking oven at South Lake Union, so we’re going to separate that out.” The Via6 complex needed a sundry store, so part of the market will also have a small sundries section with items like toilet paper.

How does a restaurateur figure out new projects like making sure the toilet paper is adequately stocked at a retail market?

“You’re assuming I’ve never done it before, but I actually have done it before, when I worked at a liquor store in Maryland, State Line Liquors. I worked there all the way through high school.” (He started out as a box boy, and his tasks included spotting the revenuers in the parking lot.)

And at what point is he going to get spread too thin? How many restaurants are too many for one person?

“It’s not one person. We have a team of almost 1,000…” he said.

“There are a lot of talented people out there — there’s not one person anywhere who does it all, unless you’re Scott Carsberg. You always have people in charge and people that are enthusiastic about your mission and anxious to go to work every day and manage their piece of the pie, so to speak…”

“In some ways it’s a positive to keep growing. It gives (employees) opportunities in a system they believe in, it helps them go outside to their next general manager job or chef’s job. I find it fun, and that’s why I get up in the morning.”

The new projects are scheduled to open in the spring.

Photo of the Via6 project courtesy of The Pine Street Group LLC.

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