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Driftwood on Alki

Seriously local, seriously seasonal

Sustainability, seasonality, 'eating local' - we hear these words frequently. Driftwood on Alki owners Chef Dan and Jackie Mallahan aren't mouthing platitudes. Their restaurant, both interior and menu-wise, reflect a Washington-only ethos.

Jackie & Dan with daughters Lily and Charlie

Everything fresh that comes through their front door is from Washington. They use no tomatoes in the winter and no citrus anytime. "Not only do they not grow here, but citrus is the biggest waste in the bar. Once you cut it, it has to be used that day or it gets thrown out. If we want a certain flavor, we figure out how to get there in a different way, especially in the bar," explains Dan. "Using Washington-only ingredients gives us a sense of place. We want to bring something to our guests that others don't offer. This focus drives us creatively. Plus we want to support the Washington food community year round. It's easy to say, 'we're just a small restaurant, how much difference can it make?' In a week, we can buy $25,000-$40,000 in product. Who do we want to get that? We want to support the smaller producers and get the best and freshest product available."

They use Preservation Meat Collective which sources directly from small Washington family farms, staying with grass-fed beef, organic chicken, squab, pork. Fin fish comes from Quinault, Makah, and Yakama tribes. "The quality of the product is exponentially better than I've used before," says Dan. "We use Northwest Bounty Wild Foods, a small direct marketing company that's family owned and good friends of my dad. They have close relations with the tribes, and we often have fish at night that was caught that morning. A lot of fish from this area goes directly overseas. We showcase fish people may not have seen before; guests have been very receptive to trying different things like native white sturgeon. We use oysters and clams from Taylor Shellfish, crab from Bellingham Bay, sea urchin from Anacortes."

Roasted honey bear squash

Their plan has always been to use spring and summer bounty in season and also preserve it to use throughout the winter. Having opened in January, they haven't had much to use so far, but spring is on its way! "Everyone used to cook this way, now it's common to get food from all over. We want to go back to using the freshest local, seasonal product, and this region offers amazing ingredients. Every day I learn about a product I knew nothing about before."

Sustainability was a consideration when designing Driftwood's interior. In addition to her restaurant background, Jackie is an interior designer. "I always heard, 'use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without' growing up," recalls Jackie. "You don't create waste. Our banquettes are from the Tacoma courthouse. Acoustic ceiling wood is from Ballard Reuse, and the back bar was already here. The bar top was a splurge, it feels like sand and waves crashing. The bathroom wallpaper is an oyster print and new. Our wall sconces are actually ceiling lights, but turned on their sides, they look like pearls in oyster shells. We used a sea glass color on walls to pull the water in." Dan adds, "The former space was painted black. There was no sense of place. Once you walked in you could be anywhere. We're right across from Elliott Bay and want to acknowledge that. At night we turn the lights down, light candles, so it's cozy without being dark."

Dining room, photo credit Stephanie Forrer

Jackie grew up in Florida. Her parents both owned businesses; her mom was a florist and her dad restored classic cars. She attended Florida State in interior design. Her mom once said she should have gone to culinary school. She applied and was accepted, moved to New York and stayed with her sister. Her internship was on the West Coast, then she returned to Manhattan and worked at Beacon, working all areas front of the house, and learned more about wine. In 2009, she returned to the West Coast and began working at Boulevard where she met Dan. In 2015, she started her own vintage furniture design firm.

Dan is from Everett, Washington. "We have a huge family, I have 39 first cousins! Our gatherings are huge and revolve around food." He got his degree in Business Management/Marketing from Western Washington University, then moved to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy 2007-2008. He took every opportunity offered and was part of teams that went to culinary competitions in Tai Pei, Hong Kong, Macao; and made lots of connections. He worked at FIVE in Berkeley after graduation, then at Boulevard in San Francisco for five years, where he met Jackie. He worked through all the stations, then became one of the sous chefs for two years, then executive sous for the rest of his time there. Both Jackie and Dan loved their time at Boulevard, and it was where Dan was exposed to the local/seasonal ethos.

In 2017, they moved to Seattle and Dan helped open RIDER in downtown Seattle as executive chef. "We bought a house in West Seattle in 2018 and knew we wanted to open our own place. I worked at RIDER to understand the logistics of purveyors, who to work with, delivery schedules, supply chains, always planning to leave after two years. The pandemic hit, the restaurant closed, and we all left to do other things." They looked at a number of places, several fell through. They were negotiating on one while Jackie was in labor with daughter Lilly. They really wanted to be in West Seattle, close to home. Their broker told them there was a place that wasn't listed yet. They took a look and Jackie immediately saw it was right. They bought it November 6, 2021, ran the Alki Beach Club as it was for four months waiting for permits, then closed in on March 1 and began renovations.

Service and hospitality are critical to both Jackie and Dan. "Small missteps in the kitchen can be overcome by great service. If someone has great food but terrible service, they won't see it as a good experience. As long as we have the ability and the time to do what a guest asks, we will. Service has to be great; hospitality means going out of our way to ensure guests are seen and heard, welcomed. We have no ego about what guests want. Well done, nothing on it? We can do that. More salt and pepper, of course. It's their meal. Jackie is so good at accommodating guests and making everyday and celebration meals special."

At the end of the day, Driftwood is a family business that supports the local food community, and offers interesting food in an environment that is environmentally friendly. Just what we all look for.

Connie Adams/March 2023

Driftwood on Alki
2722 Alki Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116

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