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Brimmer & Heeltap

Stronger than ever

We make choices every day, but when something major happens (hello, pandemic), those decisions become a little more critical. Fortunately, Jen Doak, owner of Brimmer & Heeltap, made some thoughtful decisions that have sent her on a positive trajectory.

Photo by Will Foster

As the pandemic closed life down, Brimmer & Heeltap had an "everything must go" sale. "In order not to lose all our inventory, we made a bunch of food and had a to-go fire sale," recalls Jen. "By the next Friday, I was working at Town & Country's Ballard Market, working the door, making sure people wore masks, maintaining a certain volume of people in the store at any given time. I also got to work in the wine department, which was fun. The model of just getting through a week, then a month was how we all lived. Working there was an unexpected benefit - it kept me in touch with people in the community. Their concern for the restaurant was heartwarming, and my being there doing what I had to do showed them my determination to bounce back."

Jen kept asking herself what she could do with her space when no dining was allowed. She came up with a wine club. "It wasn't a risk. I had the space and wine was ordered for people who signed up for the club. We'd get the wine, we'd sell the wine. It wasn't about making money, it was about getting people to remember the space, keeping their memories of special times and good meals alive. It was an ongoing marketing campaign, and a way to find affordable, delicious wines for our customers while supporting our favorite distributors and local wineries."

Looking back at other good decisions, in the second year after opening Brimmer & Heeltap, Jen had a private dining room built behind the restaurant. Not only did that space work well over the years, it was there to be used in a new way during the pandemic. "I knew it would be a while before we could use our dining room, so we looked for ways to use outdoor space, converting the private dining room to a coffee shop/garden cafe. We reached out to roasters and retailers. Caffe Umbria was receptive and aligned with our values and vision. They got us started, helped us with equipment, trained our staff. They've been exceptionally generous. The garage door could be rolled up, so it met outdoor guidelines." The coffee shop is called Red Arrow Coffee and is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. People use it like any coffee shop, coming in for espresso, pastry, breakfast, or lunch. All food is made onsite in the Brimmer & Heeltap kitchen.

As things come back to "normal," the garden café is used as overflow dining and also for private dining. That can also include the back patio just outside the cafe. "It has to pen out financially if we're not going to use it for dining, so we charge a food and beverage minimum."

Dinner-wise, they continued take out, eventually transitioning back to service. Chef Mac Tadie came on board in February 2021. He's worked in London (St. John Bread & Wine with Chef Fergus Henderson), Seattle (Sitka & Spruce under Logan Cox, now owner of Homer), and New York (Flora Bar under Ignacio Mattos), among others. "I think what he's doing here is perfect, making food that is familiar but so interesting and delicious, like his lamb fried rice topped with herbs. Dishes are fresh and he uses local ingredients."

Asparagus, tonnato, capers, spruce tips

The wine club became very popular. "We were tasting more wines than we could use for subscriptions, so we decided to use the other half of the dining room as a retail wine shop. It's open the same days the restaurant is open. We just celebrated one year, and it's been great." Emily Riley has signed on as the wine director. She has an extensive background in fine dining, restaurant management, and wine studies, having worked at Whitehouse Crawford, helping to open and manage Passatempo Taverna, and founding The Thief Fine Wine & Beer, all in Walla Walla.

For Brimmer & Heeltap guests, one of the bonuses is the ability to walk into the next room, pick out a wine, and have it with their dinner. There is a $10 corkage fee, but the wine cost is retail, not restaurant. "I see people in the restaurant choosing a wine they're familiar with, which is great," says Jen. "But if they go into the shop, they're more likely to try something new, and that's really fun to see. For us, it might be financially better to use that space for diners. But we're prioritizing our team, offering a four-day work week. Full-time employees get healthcare, and anyone who works 20 hours a week gets half their healthcare paid for. We want to work smarter, not harder, and this is more fun!" Check the website for monthly Tuesday wine tastings (free). They also pair art with wine at events, making each more approachable. Eventually, they hope to get back to doing wine classes.

A new restaurant is also on the way, this one in Newcastle. "I grew up in the area and am amazed that it still isn't more developed in terms of what is offered. My mom lives there, so I see what's happening. I contacted our commercial broker and asked them to look around. We have a lease and are waiting for permits.

"Adversity often creates opportunity and I'm grateful we're in a neighborhood that has supported our changes, and excited to be bringing something to Newcastle, another great neighborhood."

Connie Adams/July 2022

 

Brimmer & Heeltap
www.brimmerandheeltap.com

Red Arrow Coffee
www.redarrowcoffee.com

Halfseas
www.halfseaswine.com

425 NW Market St
Seattle, WA 98107
206-420-2534

 

 

 

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