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RockCreek Seafood & Spirits

Chef/Owner Eric Donnelly crosses the lake

In December 2023, RockCreek will have a second location, this one in Kirkland. The original opened in Fremont July 2013, followed by FlintCreek Cattle Company October 2016, and Bar Sur Mer July 2022, both in Greenwood.

Chef/Owner Eric Donnelly knew the time to grow the company was coming. When the pandemic hit, he used the downtime to restructure the company and set the table for future growth. "In this industry, there's never a downtime; COVID provided that. We began reassessing systems and learned we need operable and outdoor spaces. And, although I learned this before the pandemic, we looked at how we can make this industry work for employees. We all need to be part of the process. Everyone is involved in discussions about what we're doing. There are people who've worked with me for 13-15 years and I want to help them with their careers and make sure they get a piece of the pie. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed. It's not about me anymore, it's about the company and our growth."

Kirkland came about in "a funny turn of events." Eric recalls, "The building came first. I fell in love with it, the community, and location. It was built in the '30s, is near the water, and aligned with a seafood program. I love all three of my brands, but RockCreek made sense for this location. The dining room will seat 90; we'll start with 50 seats on the patio with a fire feature, and peekaboo views of the lake, marina park, and downtown Seattle skyline. Perfect for sunsets, oysters, and rosé! Downstairs there's a private dining room with 45 seats that we can also use as overflow seating. There's a wine cellar and a service bar with six seats."

Fremont's RockCreek has a small kitchen and walk-in. "I love the place to death, but in Kirkland, we were able to design a kitchen with space for prep, walk-in, bigger line, and woodstove oven. We can expand our food program and the 'other' section with more meat. We'll keep the classics and add more showstoppers." The larger space will also allow them to add daily lunch. They'll offer hand-crafted signature cocktails highlighting local and global spirits, local beers on tap, and a wine list that pairs with the menu.

Eric has spent his life in this industry. "It's all I've ever done. I started working at a catering company as a teenager. I had a desire to work downtown and in 1998 I had dinner at Sazerac. I fell in love with what was happening there. It's the world I wanted but didn't know how to get there. I didn't know you could just ask! was thinking of moving to New York and attending the Culinary Institute of America. That night at Sazerac, I went up to the line and talked to the two guys working - they're still both good friends. I worked with Chef Jan Birnbaum there for 9 years and learned invaluable things. It set the stage for how I cook and who I am as a person. It launched my career. It wasn't all puppies, kittens, and balloons, but that one moment changed everything. I've never written a resume and never went to culinary school."

Eric moved to Semiahmoo Resort as Chef de Cuisine; he was 26. Realizing it wasn't where he needed to be career-wise, he returned to Seattle and Sazerac, filling in shifts. At Sazerac, he worked with Chef Kevin Davis. Kevin left to open The Oceanaire downtown and had asked Eric to work there. "I'd never had a mentor. At Oceanaire, I worked lunch and saved money. I could be home every day at 4. That lasted about a month until Kevin said, 'What are you doing? I'll see you tomorrow night,' and I became the Sous Chef staying seven years. When young, I liked to stay and learn all I could and master everything, then move on. Until Oceanaire, I didn't know how to read a P&L or cost out a protein. Chefs didn't teach that. At Oceannaire, everyone was part of the process. I learned the mathematical side of things and how to source seasonally on a local and global scale. This was important for the next phase of my career."

He opened Toulouse Petit in lower Queen Anne, staying four years. "I signed up to do dinner seven nights a week. After it got going, they added breakfast, and the menu was huge. While there, I started developing the RockCreek concept in the back of my mind; I wanted to get back to seafood, a sprinkle of Southern food, and a global view, where protein was the star and prep was whatever I wanted. Toulouse was good experience, but not what I signed up for. I gave them a one-year notice because that menu was a monster! During that year, I found a space and left in June, opening RockCreek in July. This month is our tenth anniversary!"

Three years later, Eric was approached about a space at 85 th and Greenwood, one he always thought would be great for a restaurant." FlintCreek Cattle Company opened with a concept of premium meats sourced from well-managed small farms and ranches responsibly raising pastured and grass-fed animals. "We focus on flavor and let food be natural, using butchery and a global approach. It's our approach to food, the 'three ingredients done well model.' Seattle Met named us Restaurant of the Year that year. I've had four James Beard nominations. It's cool to be brought to the table like that."

Traveling to Spain, Eric saw the food culture firsthand and loved the bar experience with small plates. He opened Bar Sur Mer to offer that eating experience paired with specialty cocktails. "I wanted it to be a romantic and fun atmosphere."

Never tired of learning, Eric has been accepted at the University of Washington's Foster School of Business for this September. "I want to see how far I can take this. My story is nowhere near complete."

Connie Adams/September 2023

RockCreek Seafood & Spirits
4300 Fremont Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103

FlintCreek Cattle Company
8421 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103

Bar Sur Mer
219 N 85 th St
Seattle, WA 98103

RockCreek Seafood & Spirits
89 Kirkland Ave
Kirkland, WA 98033
Opening December 2023

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