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Eight Row

An amalgamation

We love to label restaurants -Mexican, Italian, American. Yet many aren't just one thing, and you can miss some great experiences if you go by the category. Eight Row is that kind of place.

Brothers David and Ian Nichols grew up in central Washington on a cherry orchard on the Wenatchee River. Their parents have 10 acres of cherries there, plus a larger orchard, The Fringe: 300 acres of apples, cherries, and pears on the Colville Reservation on the Columbia River. "In the farming community, everyone supports everyone," says David. "We grew up working in the orchards and after harvest everyone sat down and ate together as a family. Many workers were from South and Central America. Our mom had lived in Peru, so we ate a lot of food from those areas. Our after-school snack was El Pastor tacos from trucks owned by local families. The people who worked and ran the orchards were a huge part of our lives."

Ian (left), and David Nichols

Bringing people and food together is what eventually drove the brothers to open a restaurant they describe, due to outside pressure, as Pan-American, considering a lot of their food comes from the tip of South America to Canada. "People like an easy way to understand us, but alongside the foods from Central America and Mexico we grew up with are dishes from other experiences, like my time in Italy, and our love of fruit. In some form, we have something from the orchard in every dish. We want people here to connect with the farming culture, true fruit culture. I just want to cook great food."

After high school, both David and Ian moved to the East Coast. "I went to the French Culinary Institute; New York was the mecca of food. I worked for Marc Murphy running six restaurants and catering. I staged in Italy and traveled to Turks & Caicos and Australia. My 'few years' in New York turned into 15. Ian moved to Boston to study physics and astrophysics. He then moved to New York and we lived together. I thought about opening a restaurant in New York, but I love home. I didn't really appreciate it until I was gone so long. It's gorgeous and the stars are so bright. It's now Kate's (Eight Row's General Manager and David's fiancée) and my happy place to visit."

Ian, Kate, David

In 2016, David moved to Seattle. "I had a connection at Queen Anne Beer Hall. They needed a chef, so I got it up and running and stayed a year, then opened Rider in the Hotel Theodore downtown, where I met Kate."

Kate Willman grew up in Texas. In her early 20s she felt she'd reached the ceiling of Dallas dining. "Not Texas food - I'm a proud Texan! But I was drawn to New York, too. My goal was to be a maître d ' at a four star restaurant. I accomplished that at 27, then realized I wanted different things. I had visited Seattle and thought I'd take a chance. I moved here when I was 30. I met someone who knew the GM of Rider, which hadn't opened yet. I became the manager. It was awesome food and a great team. David and I were co-workers and became friends." Part of Kate's New York shift was the continuation of long-term sobriety (8 years) and getting her degree in Psychology. She left Rider to go into the master's program, which she's still in. After a year of being away from restaurants, she looked for a job she could do while in school. "I missed people, the energy of dinner service, the calm afterward. David and I had stayed in contact. He told me about Eight Row, and I took the job."

David and Kate are aligned on their feelings of a missing piece in Seattle that is common in New York and Europe. "Restaurant work is a respected profession," says Kate. "There's a disconnect here. This isn't a knock on the city or restaurants. And It's odd considering how large New York is that you feel more 'known' at places there." David agrees. "I could go into a neighborhood restaurant there and they'd put my drink in front of me and I'd never need a menu. At Rider and now Eight Row, we've established that kind of feel, getting to know guests and what's happening in their lives." Their personal community has grown since David and Kate began dating after she came to Eight Row and connected her family to his. Ian now works in London and is on top of Eight Row's wine program. "We have a badass wine list," laughs Kate. David adds, "Just like our food, every wine has a story, a meaning as to why it's here."

Eight Row opened in August 2019. "It was the usual controlled chaos," says Kate. "But the pandemic provided an even more novel version of that. We've had to become even more creative. We've always supported local farms but can't buy the same volume. So we started a CSA program that helps support farms by using items in the kitchen and boxes. It offers fresh food to people who want to eat here, and for those who aren't comfortable yet." In addition, they sell things like granola, pickled asparagus, pickles, tortillas, salsa, nectarine preserves. You'll find pickles and tortillas always; the rest is seasonal.

Kate, David, and Ian agree that Eight Row is more than a restaurant: it's a home for them and their guests. Their staff went from 30 to eight. "It was hard to let people go. We're digging our heels in; we want to stay and be relevant. You can come here after a run around Green Lake or to celebrate your anniversary," says Kate. "We're hiring people back as we can," says David. "We're fortunate in that we are near apartments, houses, and have a good landlord. We've certainly had some low points through this, but there have been silver linings."

Along with keeping Eight Row afloat, their longer-term goal is to open more restaurants, here and in other cities. Eight Row, with 110 seats inside and 30 on the patio, will be their flagship restaurant. They're open to all ideas, but each will have the same foundational roots: a story behind everything on the menu.

Connie Adams/September 2020

 

Eight Row
7102 Woodlawn Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98115
206-294-3178

eightrow.com

 


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