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Filling a community need

When people say they built their business from the ground up, it's often an expression; they started something new based on a concept. For Kris and Kali Kelnero, it's that and more. Unable to find a former restaurant space to lease, they chose a former dentist's office. Not only did they build their concept of a craft cocktail bar, but they also remodeled the office into an intimate bar setting, built a kitchen, front deck, and back patio with their own labor. They knew they'd need the front deck for those three months of nice weather in the Northwest. Little did they know they'd face a pandemic and need the outdoor space to survive.

Unlike many first-time owners, both have experience in the restaurant/bar worlds. "We knew exactly what we were getting into," says Kris. "We worked hard to save money ever since we met so we could do this. We were realistic and even that was wrong!" They signed the lease in November 2017 and opened in February 2019. "It was an eight month permitting process," recalls Kali. "A total of 15 months to open Kelnero. We put in so many hours and Kris worked two jobs."

They had multiple concepts in mind. "We always have a lot of ideas, but we wanted the space to decide what would work," says Kris. "A cocktail bar was at the top of our list using regional ingredients, with food that's organic when possible, from small farms, hyper-seasonal and hyper-local. In building this place, we got to choose how we created our vision. We started with 20 cocktails of our own and now have 50. Our specials menu is larger than most regular menus." In addition to their own cocktails, they make classic cocktails, a large number of thoughtful non-alcoholic drinks, offer spirits from around the globe, and local beer and wine. "Our zero proof drinks are meant to be fun and delicious," says Kris. "There are many reasons people don't want to drink and we feel they should have a menu to choose from with interesting ingredients."

Patagonia Sour

They created most of their cocktails until Kali became pregnant (due July 2021). "At that point, we asked the other bartenders to step up," says Kali. "They'd always been involved, but it's a real skill and they've done great work. Some of them have been with us since opening. We audit everything to make sure it works the way we want."

Because they have such a wide range of cocktails, some guests will ask them to make something new for them. "To make a truly great cocktail, it takes time and iteration," notes Kris. "It's rare to just do it on the fly. We call it our 'back pocket' drinks - something we're working on already and we'll make it for a regular or someone who asks for something new and get feedback on it. We also have plenty of cocktails we've made up that aren't on the menu. Most of our regulars try to work through the menu, there's so many it's a new experience each time."

In the beginning, they were going to keep the menu small - charcuterie plates, cheese. Their kitchen is hoodless, so it curbs their menu somewhat. "We decided to go bigger. Our principles are clear - we believe in smaller portions, veggie forward dishes, sustainable ingredients. We go regional on food; most of our seafood is from Lummi Island Wild, humanely caught. When you have your own business, you can make the world a better place in your own way by sticking to your principles in every way: staffing, ingredients, little waste, supporting agave producers who've been doing it for generations, and female- and people-of-color-owned companies. Another example is the enslaved black man who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey in the mid-1800s. In 2016, Jack Daniel's said they would change their official history to honor Nathan "Nearest" Green. We are happy to use Jack Daniel's because of their change of heart," says Kali.

Salmon chowder

Primarily, they're a bar, with 75% of sales in liquids, and 25% in food. "We're cocktail/spirits people and wanted to knock it out of the park with our drinks. We also wanted to complement our area. Other than Daphne's, which is a traditional cocktail bar, you have to leave Edmonds to find craft cocktails. Now people come here for a cocktail before going to a local restaurant for dinner. And they might come back for an after-dinner drink. One of the biggest compliments we had was when people came from Capitol Hill. They'd heard about us and it was worth it to them to come to Edmonds for drinks."

As things open up pandemic-wise, and spring and summer approach, Kris and Kali look forward to ramping up. "We're not setting any firm event dates, but we'd love to do our "half-assed half birthday" in August," says Kris. "People expect this to be a high-end experience with candles on the tables and piano music at night. So some were surprised when they came in on our half birthday and found us in shorts and baseball caps making Jell-O shots. Of course, they were high-end Jell-O shots. Pretty sure we lost money on those since we spritzed them with peated scotch. We had rotating flavors. It might not be what people expect, but right now everyone needs to have some fun."

Springtime spritz

They've done well with online tastings, but it's a lot of work. They may bring them back later, but now while they head toward summer building their parklet, bringing back slushies and spritzes, and a baby coming, they're off the table. Hopefully, they'll get back to printing Kali's more complex and beautiful menus quarterly and will continue with their boutique liquor store. They've managed to keep their entire staff. "We're so amazed and grateful that our guests kept showing up to keep us going."

Connie Adams/April 2021

Read Kris and Kali's backgrounds here

545 Main Street
Edmonds, WA 98020

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