It’s been a decade since diners have been welcomed into the Alki Homestead, a beloved West Seattle landmark. Lately, you may have noticed that the rugged log exterior has been spruced up. That makeover only hints at the big shifts happening within. Folks who remember the velvet, lace and mashed-potato charm of the old restaurant will be disoriented. The first thing you notice upon entering: A chic eight-person bar leads into an open dining room with a soaring, dark log ceiling. Then you spot an arched Gothic pulpit, from which the maître d’ will greet guests. “That’s because eating here is going to be a religious experience,” says Dennis Schilling, the investor and builder who bought the dilapidated building in 2015. His son, construction manager Matt Schilling, chimes in: “It’s going to be the biggest thing since the Second Coming!”
“For the record, I didn’t say that!” shouts renowned pasta chef Mike Easton, not wanting to set an excessively high bar for Il Nido, the dinner restaurant that he’s opening in this historic building. But expectations are already high. Easton is the James Beard Award–nominated chef behind Il Corvo; his pastas, with doughy bite and concentrated sauces, are such a revelation that foodies line up around the block daily at the Pioneer Square restaurant.
FROM THE ASHES: Matt Schilling taught himself some of the techniques needed to rebuild the log structure that once housed the Alki Homestead restaurant, destroyed by a fire a decade ago. Photo by Matt Schilling Construction
The Homestead had fans, too. The classic American restaurant was the scene of family celebrations (starring golden fried chicken) from 1950 until 2009, when Christmas lights overloaded the circuits and started a fire that burned clear through the roof, causing the restaurant to close permanently. However, the log structure, one block off the beach, has been a landmark for much longer. A soap baron built the classic Seattle box in 1904, one of the first “real” houses on Alki Beach. But for the past decade, the Homestead has sat empty while locals rallied to prevent it from becoming another teardown.
Enter Schilling, a developer with an unusual attraction to problem properties. While rebuilding a 1920s apartment complex nearby, he discovered a “For Sale” sign on the Homestead’s lawn and couldn’t get the burnt building out of his head. “It’s just me. I’d rather be doing something interesting,” he says. “If you want to make money, there are easier ways to do it.”
That was also the conclusion Easton came to when Schilling first showed him his new purchase. Easton approached Schilling because he was sniffing around for a home for a new restaurant. But this one smelled like trouble. “It was absolutely derelict,” Easton remembers. “I tried to talk myself out of it for a few months.” Easton and his wife, Victoria, who live in West Seattle, have created something rare at Il Corvo: The lunch-only phenom pays the bills and allows the couple the life/work balance they craved after working in more traditional restaurants. Why mess that up by opening a dinner restaurant that’s three times bigger than Il Corvo and twice as fancy? “Do you stay put and just be a mom-and-pop operation? Or do you move forward?” Easton asks. “Finding this space in our neighborhood is what convinced us to do a dinner restaurant.”
FAMILY AFFAIR: Dennis Schilling (seated) bought the historic Alki Homestead building in 2015 which he and his son, Matt, have been renovating. Below: The original Alki Homestead sign has been restored and will mark the site of the new Il Nido restaurant. Photo by Alex Crook
Bringing the building back from the dead has been a handwrought, team effort, much like Easton’s pasta. Matt Schilling taught himself how to chainsaw chinks into logs (which he sourced and hauled from Oregon) to rebuild a collapsed corner of the building. Then it was Easton’s task to feather Il Nido, which in Italian means “the nest.” Solid pews upcycled from a church encircle the dining room, anchored by live-edge slab tables and delicate geometric chairs Easton assembled himself. The effect is handsome and modern, yet very much in keeping with the bones of the original structure. “The guest experience starts at the curb with the lawn and this historic building,” Easton says. “The moment they open the door they are greeted by the bar, a wall of wine and a view into that gorgeous remodel of the kitchen.”
You can just see it, can’t you? But can you taste it? By the time you read this, Il Nido may already be open. At press time, it wasn’t—and Easton is maddeningly close-mouthed about menu specifics. He’s a creative chef who likes to keep a surprise up his sleeve. The big idea is to serve labor-intensive pasta like tortelli (a ring-shaped, filled pasta from Lombardy) that can’t be made at tiny, packed Il Corvo. Seasonal produce will play a major role. And while he won’t be serving fried chicken, Easton vows that the Homestead’s spirit will remain: “As I tell people, the building is already an icon; we merely have to rise to the occasion.”