New restaurant Finistère slated to open soon

Chris Tucker ctucker@ptleader.com
Posted 7/25/17

The large glass windows at the former Sweet Laurette Cafe and Bistro are covered with paper on the inside, blocking anyone from peering in.

Behind the paper, it’s a flurry of …

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New restaurant Finistère slated to open soon

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The large glass windows at the former Sweet Laurette Cafe and Bistro are covered with paper on the inside, blocking anyone from peering in.

Behind the paper, it’s a flurry of activity.

Deborah Taylor and Scott Ross were busy preparing to put new tile on the floor and to repair a metal plate on a stainless steel commercial kitchen stove at their new restaurant, Finistère.

As Ross sawed a piece of drywall, he expressed bemusement that his 3-year-old son, Liam, had abandoned his toys to play instead with a strip of scrap wood.

The name Finistère is derived from Latin, meaning “an outpost at the end of the land,” Taylor said.

France is divided into 97 “departments” (similar to U.S. counties). One of those departments, Finistère, is located in the northwest of France on the Atlantic Coast. It reminded Taylor of Port Townsend.

The capital of France’s Finistère, oddly enough, is called Quimper.

There is no hard date set for opening, but the couple is hoping to be open in time for the Wooden Boat Festival and the Port Townsend Film Festival.

RENOVATIONS

The restaurant will look a little different than Sweet Laurette. The coffee bar has been removed to make way for a bar. The main dining room – currently green – is to be painted two shades of gray: dark on bottom and lighter on top. New glassware and plates are also on the menu. Taylor and Ross are putting down a new tile floor in the bar area, but keeping the wood flooring in the dining room.

The couple bought all the assets of Sweet Laurette. Taylor said it saved time and money for them to lease a place that already had a kitchen.

“We ate [at Sweet Laurette] twice as people who were visiting,” she said.

They’re shifting focus away from a breakfast and cafe restaurant to a dinner restaurant with brunch on the weekends.

“We know how hard it is to run a restaurant and be in there all the time, and we really want to be ‘here’ when it’s open.

“We’re making a … conscious decision to ‘start slow, grow,’ instead of growing too fast and then being open all the time and being overwhelmed,” Taylor said.

Although this is their first time owning a business, they both have real-world experience working for other restaurants. Taylor worked as an executive sous chef at Canlis in Seattle for more than two years and has been in the restaurant business for 10.

They plan to hire 10-15 employees, including sous chefs, cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, servers and hostesses.

BACKGROUND

Ross’ family has lived in Washington for seven generations, in Leavenworth and Issaquah, he said. His father, Stephen, flew fighter jets for the Navy in the 1980s and was based in Everett for a time aboard the USS Lincoln. (On July 20, Stephen Ross was piloting an electric drill as he did prep work for the tile floor.) Ross’ grandfather Woody was a lineman for Puget Sound Power and collected maple wood from storm-downed trees. They now plan to use that wood to make new tabletops for Finistère.

In past summers, the extended Ross family would travel to Fort Worden.

Ross and Taylor met in New York City in Manhattan. At the time, Ross was acting and working in television production, and Taylor was studying at the CIA – the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, Taylor worked at the Michelin three-star-rated Eleven Madison Park restaurant.

Of New York City, Taylor said, “There are few places in the world where you get to experience that level of restaurants all in one place and that amount of learning. It was worth it for that. I knew I never wanted to open a restaurant there.”

Five years ago, the couple moved to Seattle, where Taylor worked at the restaurants Canlis and Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy Mercantile. Ross worked at the Tilth restaurant as well as the restaurant at the Four Seasons. Their goal, however, was to open their own restaurant.

NO ‘TWEEZER FOOD’

Taylor said that although she has “a lot of experience in higher-end kitchens,” she wanted Finistère to be accessible to everyone.

“I appreciate just good, simple food done well and the ingredients respected. That’s really what my goal is here, not to mess it all up with a bunch of tweezers.”

Some of the world’s high-end restaurants present delicate, carefully arranged food that is literally moved into position by chefs handling tweezers.

“Tweezer food,” Taylor said with a laugh.

Taylor said she loves the patio at their new restaurant as it is a good brunch spot, especially since the farmers market is literally right around the corner.

“I love the fact that two days a week in the summertime, you have farmers markets on either side of you,” Taylor said. The farmers market offices are located in the second story of the restaurant building, making what Taylor calls a hub of community food involvement.

“This was such a local, loved restaurant for so many years that we just really wanted to hopefully carry on that torch and that tradition,” Taylor said.

DRAWN BY FARMS, CULTURE

“We always wanted to end up somewhere that had a lot of really great culture,” Taylor said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Ross said the many farms in the area are a real strength, adding that he and Taylor may start a “chef’s garden” of their own.

“You can open farm-to-table restaurants in the city, but you have to have it driven in from all over the place, whereas here, there’s so many farms … there’s a boon of farms … a lot of specialities, and they’re doing beautiful work,” Ross said.

“That was another driving force for Port Townsend.”

Ross said he plans to stock local ciders from Finnriver, Alpenfire and Eaglemount.

Ross pointed out that people go to the theater to forget about their troubles for a while, and “that’s the same reason people go out to eat.

“Everything has a story. Every plate that comes out, every bottle behind the bar, every glass of wine. What it tastes like is important obviously – you want it to be great on that end – but also there’s so many traditions that back that thing up. I really like to showcase that,” Ross said.

“I look forward to having that interaction with guests.… ‘Where does this come from?’ ‘Why is that important?’” Ross said.

Taylor said she wants to feature SpringRain Farm’s chickens and rabbits on the menu, as well as items from Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim.

“They do a lot of great grains,” Taylor said. She would also like to work with Red Dog Farm, and feature oysters and shellfish from Hama Hama and Penn Cove.

The couple is impressed that there are so many local farms in the area, including cheesemakers Mystery Bay Farm and Chimacum Valley Dairy, as well as craftspeople, artists and potters.

Taylor said Finistère would not be based on other restaurants where she’s worked, but would instead be a culmination of her experiences.

“When I went to culinary school I always wanted to own my own restaurant,” Taylor said. “You can do it the way you want to. Cooking is a very personal expression. Being a chef is a pretty personal thing, and whenever you’re a chef and you’ve been working for a long time, you really get to a point in your career when you decide if you’re going to do this for the rest of your life, that you really want your voice to be there … you’re not just an employee, you’re an owner,” she said.

“I can have an opinion about the glasses, the plants, the vibe, the style of service, everything. It becomes part of your voice and it’s very personal. Some people are happy being employees, because they don’t have that added stress of owning. It’s very intimidating, but for me, the pros of having a voice and being able to have it be a true expression of you outweigh all the scary points … I feel like you got to try to go for it.”

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