I won't say it seemed like an easy task in the beginning, but it turns out I had no idea what I'd be getting myself into.
"Let's come up with Seattle's 50 most powerful food people: companies, chefs, farmers, purveyors and so on," someone said. This was last fall, when our April Best Restaurants issue (on newsstands now) was in its infancy, when we were bantying our ideas about.
I loved the challenge of the idea, and as the daughter of a small business owner (my dad has owned Austin Machinery, in Sodo, for 35 years), it's second nature for me to want to celebrate, to bring to light the lesser-known but still powerful businesses that churn beneath the surface, the sometimes blue collar (and sometimes billion dollar) businesses that don't always have the name recognition they deserve.
Sure, we wanted the list to include the household names of Seattle's food scene--Sur la Table, Costco, Dick's owner Dick Spady, Tom Douglas--but I also wanted to introduce you to Dick Yoshimura, who's owned Mutual Fish for 65 years, and to the small team of ranchers raising grass-fed beef for Blue Valley Meats. To celebrate businesses we've loved for years, like Pagliacci, Uwajimaya, and Metropolitan Market. And, corny as it sounds, I was personally thrilled that we'd get to tell you Murray Stenson's real age!
Many have asked how we came up with the list. The short answer is that we came up with as many categories as we could think of and then filled them in over weeks and months, from chefs to industrial design to established brands. We were looking for impact over time, influence of a lasting nature like David Schomer, owner of Vivace, continues to have on the coffee culture, even after 24 years in the game. In some cases we included folks who've had a more recent impact, but a susbstantial one (see: Graham Baba Architects and Skillet's Joshua Henderson).
We used certain folks as a litmus test, if you will: As our list came to reach beyond 50 (the intended number when we started the process; we ended up with 70 businesses/people), we asked ourselves how so-and-so compared to, say, a solid Food Establishment listee like Fran Bigelow; Fran's has been around for three decades but the product has never been better.
On a personal level, I was thrilled to work with the stellar, James Beard Award-winning food writer, Rebekah Denn. I knew I could trust her opinions to be objective and level-headed, and her smart contributions and arguments for whom to include--and where said companies/people should fall in the order--were essential to the list. We spent hours eating bagels and arguing about which cupcake company should be higher on the list, about which longtime chefs continue to influence the restaurant scene; those yellow post-it notes came in awfully handy.
That said, this is our first shot at it. Did we miss someone glaringly obvious? It's possible, and if that's the case, I trust you'll tell us about it.
In any event, I'm all out of hot air. So here she is: the Seattle Food Establishment.