Perhaps it was during an event at Woodinville’s Chateau Ste. Michelle winery — where Skillet’s food truck has been known to make appearances — that Skillet Street Food founder Josh Henderson first spotted the humble Woodinville landmark formerly known as the Hollywood Tavern. However he found it, Henderson plans to make it the site of his latest new project, a burgers and whiskey eatery. The spot is among the most anticipated new restaurants in Woodinville and a sign of the area’s ripening food scene.
“Wineries have been very creative in the past few years with, let’s just say, the lack of food scene in the area. They get food trucks over there or they hire caterers,” said Jamie Peha, interim director of Woodinville Wine Country, an organization aimed at promoting and representing the wine industry, local economy and community of Woodinville.
“There are more [restaurant] choices there today than even a year ago,” Peha points out. “Whether they are of ‘wine country cool’ is debatable, but certainly with Josh Henderson coming over and opening a burger tavern, that’s going to be very cool. I think as people do that, more people become interested. Even with distilleries and breweries, one distillery opens over there and now there’s like eight or nine.”
Though Woodinville’s wine industry has grown from a dozen wineries to nearly a hundred in the last 10 years, the food scene has remained slow-moving. Stunted in part by the recession and a perception of the area as a sleepy suburb, the lag has kept some chefs and restaurateurs at bay. But locals, recognizing the area’s wealth and potential, have taken their chances.
Recently, Kent and Cindy Betts, who have owned cherished neighborhood restaurant Italianissimo for the last 17 years, made the decision to open another restaurant in Woodinville.
“Being a part of this community and with the neighbors and regulars that we’ve gotten to know over the years, we knew we wanted to open another restaurant in Woodinville rather than go somewhere else,” said Caylee Betts, the pair's daughter, who acts as marketing director for her family’s new restaurant, the Station Pizzeria.
“We actually thought about Redmond, which is pretty big, and Microsoft is over there, so there are a lot of people who work there and commute,” says Adam Gold, a Woodinville resident and owner of the turkey-centric Gobble Restaurant. “But a lot of people who work in Redmond live in Woodinville, so we thought we might try to sell dinner to people who are close to home, so it won’t get cold on the way home.”
Station Pizzeria and Gobble, both only a few months old, are two of a handful of new Woodinville restaurants offering comfort foods and casual (even quirky) fare. They are a diversion from the fine dining standards of restaurants like the famed Herbfarm and the Barking Frog at Willows Lodge, which once set the tone for Woodinville dining.
“The menu isn’t really based around the wine country, but it’s all sorts of homestyle made-from-scratch food, and we wanted to echo the values of the stuff that’s created in the valley just like the wines are,” said Gold.
Also heavily anticipated is the sister café and eatery to Purple Café and Wine Bar, set to open in the same Woodinville shopping center as the first Purple space. The café will be a more casual counterpart to its sister restaurant Purple, according to owner and restaurateur Larry Kurofsky.
“We’re absolutely talking to our guests, the Purple guests, the people who live next to the wineries and the distilleries, a lot of winemakers and the population out there. I think people are looking for a more casual approach to service, the restaurant and the food,” Kurofsky explained.
“We’re really excited because we’ve been there almost 12 years in that corner. It’s been slowly evolving and, over the last few years, it’s really picked up momentum. I think it’s just going to continue on.”
The evolving food scene has also led to an increase of collaboration between local restaurants and wineries. Beyond just serving local wines, spirits and craft beers, restaurant owners are participating in cross promotions and sharing resources.
Gold points out a demo kitchen at Gobble, which he plans to offer to wineries for hosting joint tastings and demos. Last year the Station Pizzeria won its first Award of Distinction from the Washington State Wine Commission for their wine list. The Station plans to host more specific events to highlight its wines this summer.
“I do think Woodinville is going through a kind of growth spurt right now. The city, the chamber, the people, and the wine organizations have really worked together to make it easier for the people who do come there,” said Peha.
Noting the changes in the area, the Woodinville Wine Country board approved a new strategic plan last year written by former Washington Wine Commission Executive Director Steve Burns. This year, they plan to institute programs that will incorporate restaurants more in their efforts to promote the local wine industry.
Along with the annual Passport to Woodinville, a popular winetasting event, this year will mark the first Woodinville Reserve on April 12th, which will offer food from local Woodinville restaurants and feature highly scored wines. Peha anticipates that down the road, these restaurants will adopt Woodinville Wine month to further spotlight the local wines on their menus.
Kurofsky sees all of these changes as mutually beneficial. “It’s nice to surround yourself with other good operators and good chefs,” he says. “As more people come out there or as the people in the community come out, there’s that critical mass. That’s just more reason to go to that area. That just reestablishes and solidifies the identity of Woodinville.”