WSB EXTRA: What lies beneath Endolyne Joe’s? Alpacas, surfboards, and maybe a ghost

Story and photos by Michelle Riggen-Ransom
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

If you live in West Seattle, you probably already know that you can enjoy a meal out in Chicago, or Brooklyn, or even exotic Rhode Island just by visiting local restaurant Endolyne Joe’s (WSB sponsor). With its rotating, site-specific themes changing every four months, at Joe’s you can be sipping mojitos under a palm tree one season, slurping pasta and drinking vino at a cheerful Italian café the next.

But what you may not know is that beneath the restaurant is a cavernous basement filled from floor to ceiling with funky props, exotic creatures, and hand-painted signs from themes of yore. Looking for a giant wooden shark, or a glittery, oversized Mardi Gras mask? You’ll find it here, tucked away in the depths below the hundred year-old building where Endolyne Joe’s has made its home for well over a decade.

I sat down with Endolyne Joe’s assistant manager Sarah Norberg to find out what it takes to transform a restaurant on a regular basis and to learn more about this mysterious storage space. Norberg is responsible for the elaborate props and decorations at the restaurant, overseeing the creation of everything from life-size papier-mâché pick-up trucks to enormous, furry alpacas (covered in real sheepskin!), and she would be my guide on this underground adventure.

Norberg joined the Endolyne Joe’s staff about two and a half years ago. She came to the position with a background both in restaurant management and in art. It was at Joe’s that these two worlds collided.

“My first piece was this giant jaguar,” laughs Norberg. “I walked in with a nine-foot papier-mâché jaguar. I don’t think anyone was expecting that.” Norberg says that she and general manager Rich Gantner brainstorm ideas for what region to focus on, generally selecting areas in North or South America. Once that’s been decided, it sets off a whirlwind of collaboration, with the chefs creating and tweaking menu ideas, the bartenders pairing appropriate drink recipes and sourcing wine, and Norberg getting busy with building. Other  staff members and local artists provide paintings and prints in keeping with the chosen theme.

“Rich and I look at pictures of the area we’ve chosen and select something that really represents the area as our central piece–a building or a landmark or an animal,” says Norberg.

In recreating their current theme of Providence, Rhode Island’s largely Italian Federal Hill neighborhood, they chose the region’s historic “La Pigna” arch featuring a large pinecone, a symbol of welcome and abundance in Italy.

Lit with twinkling lights and hanging above the host station, Norberg’s recreated arch now welcomes hungry guests into the restaurant. “I think this theme was one of our most difficult from a building perspective,” says Norberg, gazing up at the arch. “But I think it’s also our most beautiful.”

It’s not just the restaurant staff who pitches in to pull off the transformations. For Norberg, building the sets is a family affair, with her father helping with construction, her mother doing papier-mâché, and her sister pitching in with painting. The pieces are created in Norberg’s backyard and transported to the restaurant when complete.

“We really want guests to feel a sense of connection to the place we’re representing,” says Norberg. “It’s so exciting when someone comes in and says ‘Hey, I know that street!’ about a particular sign, or recognizes some detail we’ve spent time researching and creating.”

So what becomes of the props when a new theme goes up? Do they really reside in this mysterious subterranean space? Norberg led me around the building and down a secret stairway to take a look, warning of ghosts along the way. I wondered aloud who the ghost would be. “Why, End-of-the-line Joe himself …” Norberg replied as she disappeared down an unlit hall, referring to the real-life conductor of a now-defunct trolley that the restaurant is named after.

Inside the basement is a colorful riot of oversized creatures, stacked surfboards, and towering signs. After switching on the lights, we carefully pick our way around the pieces, with Norberg stopping to give me some background or to point out a favorite piece, including the aforementioned jaguar now hanging regally from the rafters. Passing an alpaca, she strokes its neck fondly and reminisces about how her cat used to love sleeping on the soft sheepskin while it was being built. Norberg explains that some of the pieces get repurposed, finding new life with a new theme, while some seemed to have settled permanently into the basement like benevolent spirits from meals past.

Next stop on Endolyne Joe’s culinary journey? “Puebla, Mexico!” says Norberg excitedly, surrounded by her former work, already dreaming of missions and mole. End-of-the-line Joe would likely approve.

15 Replies to "WSB EXTRA: What lies beneath Endolyne Joe’s? Alpacas, surfboards, and maybe a ghost"

  • Katie November 21, 2015 (7:12 pm)

    Thank you so much for this piece! I have always wondered.

  • Jeanie November 21, 2015 (7:33 pm)

    Cool story! Who woulda guessed? And I know Federal Hill in Providence very well. Rhode Island has a large Italian population.

  • ACG November 21, 2015 (7:41 pm)

    Great article! I always was curious how the different themes come together at Joe’s. We love Endolyne Joe’s and are glad to have them in the neighborhood. Thanks for the interesting read- I love things like this on the WSB!!

    • WSB November 21, 2015 (7:48 pm)

      Michelle is a new contributor and it was her idea – the recent flood of news finally slowed enough for us to publish it! – TR

  • miws November 21, 2015 (8:56 pm)

    I’ve never been to Joe’s, but had heard they rotate the menu every few months, but never knew they had themed decor appropriate to each menu.


    Thanks, Michelle, and WSB!



  • kate November 21, 2015 (9:20 pm)

    Cool article! I really like reading about our locals. Thanks for posting. Mainstream media is so depressing and can make me feel hopeless, so WSB is nice place to visit for near by news.

  • James November 21, 2015 (11:34 pm)

    Fun to see behind the scenes stuff like this

  • Joe's employee November 22, 2015 (3:10 am)

    Just a quick shout out to Andrea Leigh, the manager of operations at this restaurant who does weeks of research and planning on these themes as well.

  • Laura November 22, 2015 (7:34 am)

    Thanks for the article! This restaurant is a gem in West Seattle and it is great to know more about how their changing themes came about.

  • sun*e November 22, 2015 (10:03 am)

    I really enjoyed this article…so interesting! We haven’t been to Endolyne Joe’s restaurant in years and it reminded we really should pay it a visit more often.

  • Jerrod November 22, 2015 (8:54 pm)

    Interesting story; more please. I’m curious about the steel mill–what about a tour there?

    • WSB November 22, 2015 (8:59 pm)

      Nucor offers tours but unless they have changed their policy very recently, photography has not been allowed, which kind of defeats the purpose, at least for our style of reporting. – TR

  • Pat Gray November 23, 2015 (8:27 am)

    Great article ans story, we always wondered who were the wizards and artists of Endolyn Joe’s! Our families have been eating there for at least 12 years and and it is the birthday favorite of 3 West Seattle kids that grew up literally with the pig and love to see how much taller they are year after year! Loved the Federal Hill Theme and the food was fantastico!

  • EJ Regular November 23, 2015 (5:36 pm)

    We were dining under that magnificent arch last night and wondering what the EJ’s building originally housed–anybody know?.

  • RG November 23, 2015 (9:59 pm)

    A restaurant (Saffron Cow) & prior to that, a grocery store.

Sorry, comment time is over.