Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell opened Tavolata, the fourth location of his Seattle Italian restaurant, in downtown Spokane on May 1, but the founder and CEO of Ethan Stowell Restaurants isn’t resting on his laurels.
This weekend, Stowell is opening his second concept in Spokane, a food hall that will include his fast-casual Bosco, in the Wonder Building. Stowell sat down for a chat in Tavolata’s bar and lounge on May 2 to discuss Tavolata, his love for pasta and Spokane – and more.
So, Ethan, why Spokane to expand your Ethan Stowell Restaurants empire?
We’ve been wanting to expand outside Seattle but also be fairly close by so that we can get there in a hurry if we need to. Spokane was a natural fit. We wanted to stay in our state. We can drive to Spokane, and we really enjoy Spokane.
I assume you started your search before the pandemic?
Oh, yeah (laughs).
Obviously, there is no planning for a pandemic, but you still went full speed ahead. It was seven months ago that you did your cooking demonstration via Zoom for the Spokane market. And, in a blink of an eye, Tavolata is now open.
Originally, we were supposed to open last winter. We were aiming for December, but then the pandemic set us back, but we still continued construction for a while. The pandemic slowed everything, but we’re still feeling super positive about things and feeling happy.
We like Spokane even more now. Riverfront Park is awesome. I’m super jealous of it! Personally, I love to walk, so I’ve been getting in a ton of steps here.
When I was a student at Gonzaga, the Olive Garden, where Tavolata is now, was one of a few places downtown. Unlimited breadsticks and salad, right? Walking in here tonight, I didn’t even recognize the space.
We definitely gutted the space. It needed infrastructure upgrades because it had been sitting around vacant for a while. The developer, Jason Kettrick, definitely wanted to participate in rebuilding the space and revitalizing downtown. We are happy to be a part of it, but we definitely had to do a lot of work.
What is the concept of Tavolata?
We love Tavolata because we want to have a robust and super-popular Happy Hour in the bar. We like to have people in earlier after the workday having a good time and creating a jovial atmosphere. Tavolata at its heart is a bar with a great Happy Hour and for groups.
And Tavolata is family-friendly, too, in the dining room and outdoor patio, as I’m seeing this evening?
Oh, yeah, I love kids. I have two kids of my own. It’s something we believe in as a company – all of the executives have kids. There are restaurants out there that shy away from kids, but we don’t. We love kids.
How would you describe Tavolata’s menu to a newcomer?
We are a sharing plates, appetizers and pasta Italian restaurant focused on handmade pasta, which we make from scratch every day. We have a nice pasta production facility onsite in the back. We like making things from scratch. Our specialty is dense, rich and flour-flavored pastas. We love the process of it. Pasta is great; I love pasta!
What are the most popular menu items at your three Tavolata locations in Seattle?
Definitely, Tavolata’s signature pasta is the rigatoni. We sell more of that than any other dish in our entire company. It is known as the king. I don’t have it, but there are several tattoos of it out there (laughs). The traditional pici and linguini nero are popular. The paccheri is amazing with the shrimp.
It is all meant to be fresh and light. Pasta sometimes tends to get heavy in those classic, old school Italian restaurants. We want pasta to be light and a little more current and progressive. I wrote the menu, so I love all of it!
What was it about this space that you really liked?
It’s downtown, it has good bones, it’s an older, historic building. It just feels right. It’s right off Riverfront Park, which is great. We have a landlord who is committed to doing some good work to the building as a whole. It was a good project for us.
Aside from the pandemic, what has been your biggest obstacle in opening?
Right now, it is staffing, but that is the entire industry nationwide. But we have a great team. Everyone is super positive and super fun. I wouldn’t call it hard. We just need to be a little more diligent with staffing.
And we just have to wait in this pandemic for people to be more comfortable coming back to work. It is what it is, and we’re just rolling with it.
What’s next for Tavolata?
Well, we’re not done with the buildout. We need to add more seats. We have more construction to do. We going to build a structure out on the patio so that it’s covered, and we can use it for more seasons. That’s coming in a couple months.
And a few cosmetic things. We have a few wall spaces to cover with reclaimed wood. But nothing big – we’re ready for business.
And you’re opening a second concept in Spokane this month?
Yes, our concept at the Wonder Building, Bosco, is part of a food hall we’re running and opening this month (May 22) alongside Chad White’s High Tide Lobster Bar and Evans Brothers Coffee. Bosco will be fast casual, with an open kitchen and a big bar, offering pasta, paninis and salads.
It’s a space with open seating where you can just hang out and have food, a cup of coffee, alcoholic beverages and play games like Jenga and cornhole. It’s a cool space, and we’re super excited about it.
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