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March 25, 2014 at 5:03 PM

Big changes coming to Szmania’s restaurant and family

File photo of Julie & Ludger Szmania by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

File photo of Julie & Ludger Szmania by Greg Gilbert/The Seattle Times

Szmania’s restaurant in Magnolia will remain open, but chef-owner Ludger Szmania will be cooking elsewhere.

Szmania, former executive chef of the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel, opened his namesake German-influenced restaurant with wife Julie in 1990. (At one point there was a Kirkland branch too.) Through the years and various updates, including a brief focus on steakhouse fare, it’s remained a reliably excellent destination both for neighborhood regulars and special-event diners, lauded as a keeper with thrilling “sheer vitality.” In its early days, then-Times restaurant critic John Hinterberger called it “possibly Seattle’s most food-arts sophisticated, yet quietly unpretentious, neighborhood restaurant.”

The Szmanias have sold the restaurant to former Szmania’s cook Michael Rogozinski (also previously of The Pink Door) and his wife Carolyn, Julie Szmania said. Staff members will stay on too. The new owners can use the Szmania’s name for up to a year, and Szmania wrote customers that the new owners had signed a long lease and to expect “a delicious neighborhood and destination restaurant with many new features that new owners with bright ideas and energy bring to the table.”

The Szmania’s, meanwhile, will be operating the Warm Springs Inn & Winery in Wenatchee, a bed & breakfast and events venue. They’ll be doing weddings and serving breakfasts and small plates and featuring wines from the vineyard they had purchased in Cashmere in 2007.

“We built a wine room at the inn. There are eight French doors in across the front deck overlooking the river. It’s beautiful. It’s like this 9,000-square-foot mansion that just is gorgeous,” Julie Szmania said.

She said they were going to “welcome some time to smell the roses, cast a line in the river and spend some quality family time together. Besides being the catering and breakfast chef, (Ludger) will be the happy maintenance man and I’ll finally be able to read a book in the sun.”

After 40 years behind a restaurant stove, with nights, weekends, and holidays given over to the family business, Julie Szmania said it was time to move to a less grueling career.

While they could have kept the restaurant and left running it to others, “I feel like we’re the kind of restaurateurs that can’t seem to delegate as well as a lot of other people can,” she said.

“My husband just loves to be here every day, cooking, ordering, butchering, deboning… He’s a chef by heart and nature.”

The vineyard is producing two to three tons of grapes now for their Brender Canyon Vineyard wine, and eight weddings are already booked for the Warm Springs Inn this summer. The new jobs, then, could be time-consuming on their own — but Szmania said it would be in a different way. “First of all, it’s just beautiful. It’s just six rooms, it’s not like we’re managing a hotel, and we can control the operation… we know ahead of time when we’re going to be busy and we can staff up,” she said.

“Putting breakfast together for 6-12 guests is nothing compared to a 200-cover night.”

Though business was tough after the dot-com crash and through the recession, Szmania’s kept reinventing itself, remaining one of the few holdovers from the classic Seattle restaurants of the 1990s, such as Kaspar’s and Saleh al Lago.

“We just couldn’t be more grateful for the 24 years of really loyal customers,” Julie Szmania said. They’ve “known nothing else” since they were married and began raising their family, and “It’s just amazing how nice people have been over the years” and how many friendships have grown from their work.

The couple, whose children are college-age, will keep their Magnolia home for now. They’ll be at the restaurant through March 31, encouraging old friends and diners to stop by, then on to their new lives.

Comments | Topics: Julie Szmania, Ludger Szmania, Szmania's

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