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Russell's Restaurant and Provisions

Options in a confusing time

Every restaurant is facing the decision of what they want/can be as rules seem to change frequently based on what's happening. And just when moving forward, they may need to reverse. Russell Lowell has faced change before and stared it down. Why should now be any different?

Ryan Lowell, Russell's son, is the Wine & Spirits Director as well as the IT Director for their restaurant business and has this to say about his dad's longevity in the business. "I would say he treats the business like a game of chess. He picks his pieces carefully and knows what to do with them. It's like the Marine Corps saying: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. He has an uncanny ability to adapt; there's a sense of calm when he faces the hairiest situations. No stress, he's been there before. He comes up with a plan. And not just Plan A. There's a Plan A, B, C, and D. He knows that adaptation is the key. The guy always has a plan."

When restaurants closed, Russell turned to a new model, creating a curbside dinner menu that people could order online or by phone and pick up curbside. The menu includes many of their classic entrees: New Bedford sea scallops, filet mignon, grilled salmon, pan-seared rack of lamb, and more. It also includes appetizer options like crab cakes and tenderloin bites, as well as salads and desserts. This has gone well, but the bigger deal according to Ryan is Russell's Provisions. "It's huge, we even have it branded now. We went all in; we bought a vacuum sealer - who knew we'd be weighing and cutting steaks to sell?"

The Provisions are meal kits to make at home, like their Steak Enthusiast Kit with filet mignon, New York strips, tenderloin steak bites, their demi-glace and seasoning. There's also a Family Dinner Kit with filet mignon, truffle risotto, tenderloin steak bites, demi-glace and seasoning, and caramel bread pudding. In addition, there's a Vintners Kit "inspired by the distinguished wines of Long Shadows Vintners." This includes a bottle of Chester Kidder, and a wine tasting for two at Long Shadows, along with smoked Coho salmon, filet mignon, double-cut pork chops, truffle risotto, demi-glace, seasoning, and chocolate caramel tart.

"We obviously want to be in business and love having people in the restaurant," says Ryan. "But it's important to us that we meet everyone's needs. For people comfortable with going out again, we're open following the Governor's rules and taking every precaution to ensure guest safety. For people who aren't ready to eat around others yet, we have the curbside dinners and the Provisions boxes. For the dining room, we are taking reservations only and not allowing walk ups. It helps us make sure we can provide great service and food in a safe environment."

While wanting to do the best for customers, they've chosen not to offer delivery. "The companies who deliver are certainly providing a service," says Ryan. "But the percentage they take is just too high for us. The internal system we use is just for the curbside pickup. Before the pandemic, we never even offered take out, so this is all a new form of revenue for us. If I give advice to anyone who has a restaurant, it's to have a great POS (point of sale) system. Having a good IT infrastructure is one of the most important things in your business." Ryan has helped several restaurants install systems that help run things more smoothly and he is also volunteering his time to help set up a restaurant in Rainier Beach. "I'm helping them evaluate what will run well on their budget and needs. You can see pretty quickly what's working in a restaurant and what isn't and trace it back so you know what to fix."

Russell's Loft has been the site of many a wedding and party over the years. This beautiful space, for the moment, is quiet. "We had events booked that haven't been able to happen. Some people have canceled, some have moved their date, and some have taken gift cards in lieu of having their deposits refunded. It's hard when you're on the verge between phases - what's the best thing to do? It's frustrating for all of us and we're trying to decide what the best way is to move forward."

In August/September 2019, John Carruthers, a co-owner of Sound to Summit Brewing in Snohomish, approached them about partnering with the brewery with Russell's creating and managing the food program. "It's been great. We love our partners."

Ryan Lowell

Future plans? "I think dad's riding the wave. It's not ideal right now, but we know we can adapt. He's sitting in the line-up waiting for the next big wave and he's going to ride it. My personal view is that a lot of restaurants won't survive due to this pandemic and other factors. I think the new trend may be people eating at home more. We'll do our best to make them comfortable coming out again and will continue our curbside and Provisions kits. I think now more than ever, we all need to support each other. Whether it's a customer or staff member, we're all going through this and need to get back to the Golden Rule. Show each other respect. I leave you with the Beatles - 'All you need is love.'"

Connie Adams/September 2020

Russell's Restaurant
3305 Monte Villa Parkway
Bothell, WA 98021

Sound to Summit Brewing
1830 Bickford Ave #111 Street
Snohomish, WA 98290

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