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Anu Apte-Elford

From Med school to cocktail queen, part 2

Anu's ability to see the big picture has been beneficial to the company she and husband Chris Elford have formed. "I'm a good delegator and always say 'delegate and check in.' It was hard for me to let go of the beverage program, but it went to Chris and I trust him 100%. Even though he's in charge, we meet with staff and everyone has input so they have ownership of the menu. Business in Seattle is hard and expensive, so we try to include everyone on menu decisions so they have ownership."

Chris and Anu met in 2012 at Camp Runamok in Kentucky, a summer camp for bartenders that focuses on craft whiskey and bourbon. "We both went last minute and had just broken up with our partners. Chris came from New York, where he was bartending and where he'd originally gone to try being a stand-up comic. There were 200 bartenders there and we slept in bunk beds and there were lots of spider bites. Hard for me to handle, so one day I went to the dock and was untangling fishing lines and talking to myself. Chris was in a hammock and I hadn't seen him. He had also walked away from the madness. Until that day, I've never laughed so hard in my life. It was an amazing day. We dated long distance for a year while he was in Virginia, where he's from, opening a restaurant. Because of cocktail conferences, we were able to meet up once a month. In 2013, we went back to Camp Runamok, then drove across country, moving him to Seattle. We guest bartended along the way."

Once in Seattle, Chris was hired by Jamie Boudreau at Canon. Then he worked at Rob Roy as a test to see if he and Anu could work and live together. "I always said I wouldn't date another bartender. Then I met Chris," she says.

Anu had business plans for different concepts she thought she'd like to do. Chris had opened Proletariat, a beer bar in New York. They said, let's do it! "It was different from offerings in Seattle; it was a curated/structured beer bar with only 16 taps. Very to the point, like Rob Roy."

In 2015, they formed their company Canoe. An entrepreneurial friend says it's smarter to put out a bunch of canoes rather than a battleship. If one goes, down you still have others. "I never liked the idea of taking two peoples' names and making one word, but this story about canoes and the fact that 'Chris' and 'Anu' sounds like 'canoe' works." Their beer bar and restaurant No Anchor opened in September 2016, with unique beer, spirits, and cocktails with a focus on sustainable, fresh, and local ingredients.

Navy Strength, with classic Tiki and modern tropical drinks, and food that uses the Northwest's seafood and vegetables in tropical ways, opened in the spring of 2017.

Navy Strength

Their latest spot, Vinnie's Wine and Raw Bar opened June 15, 2019. "The space was our coffee and juice bar and shares a kitchen with Navy Strength. We liked the idea of juice and coffee and coffee drinks, and our liquor license extended through the whole building. But it was hard to find good baristas over 21 who knew cocktails! We were so busy with No Anchor and Navy Strength, we didn't give it the attention we should have. I finally worked the coffee shop, but I'm a perfectionist whether it's a cocktail or an espresso shot. It really stressed me out and I missed the interaction. People buy a coffee and leave, I don't know if they liked it or not. With a cocktail, they stay at the bar and you can talk. I said to Chris in November, 'I quit the coffee shop.' He told me I couldn't because I owned it, but I did anyway. We didn't use the space for a while, then replaced it with Vinnie's. We feel that a wine and oyster bar kind of rounds out our Belltown corral."

They generally hire staff based on personality and how well they communicate. "I knew Jeff Vance, but we weren't friends. He was chef de cuisine at Spur Gastropub and we liked his style of food. We wanted elevated food at No Anchor to show that a beer bar doesn't have to serve French fries and burgers. We talked to him and he was interested. Then Spur closed, so it was perfect timing."

They have The Bar Bazaar, which is both their office and a bar tool shop (glasses, mugs, cups, bitters) on Western in the Pike Place Market.

Both Chris and Anu have consulted, she at Safeco Field with the cocktail program in the suites, as well as the Terrace Club. In 2019, she worked with T-Mobile Park to create a signature cocktail, the Magenta Mojo. "It's offered at most outlets at the field as it's the first cocktail you can take to your seat." Both she and Chris do pop-ups at various bars, then give feedback to owners on their bars once they've worked behind them. Chris helps people with bar design, and Anu focuses on finances and what needs to be in place before opening. Anu has been on panels at Tales of the Cocktail. She also creates cocktails on request for companies.

"Right now we're happy with what we have, but that design urge is still there. We've been talking to someone about doing a brewery project. Both parties want to work together, but we do all of this with our own money. We needed investors to get Navy Strength open, but still own 88%. Our lease is up on The Bar Bazaar in November, so maybe that will satisfy our design urge! If we do move it, we might want to add a bottle shop.

"The important thing to us is that we and our staff portray how passionate we are about what we do. We're family. We listen to each other and make changes based on feedback. We're serious about our beverages and have unique offerings. When it comes to cocktails, there is so much that goes into each one that we have a prep person in early every day. We want to offer the best."

Rob Roy
2332 2nd Ave
Seattle, WA 98121

No Anchor
2505 2nd Ave, Ste 105
Seattle, WA 98121

Navy Strength
2505 2nd Ave, Ste 102
Seattle, WA 98121

Vinnie's Wine and Raw Bar
2505 2nd Ave, Ste 102
Seattle, WA 98121

The Bar Bazaar
1516 Western Ave
Seattle, WA 98101

Connie Adams/October 2019

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