West Seattle restaurants: Circa in Admiral changes hands after 18 years

Story and photo by Randall Hauk
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

After nearly eighteen years in the same hands, Admiral District restaurant Circa is in the process of being sold.

But the new ownership includes a familiar face.

Gretchen Williamson-Evans and husband Bill Evans are the first new owners of the neighborhood fixture at since Chris Wissmar opened it. Though the new ownership team assumed operational control of the restaurant.at the beginning of December, the wait for liquor-license approval delayed finalization of the sale until this week.

In addition to having worked at Circa as a server, Williamson-Evans is also the “Gretchen” behind Gretchen’s Grains, a local packaged-food company profiled here on WSB in 2012; Bill serves as Chief Executive Officer. With products now distributed in more than 250 stores across five states, Gretchen’s Grains has reached a point where the only way to grow the business further would be to invest in significant changes in the operational structure, something Williamson-Evans says she and her husband had decided against doing themselves, opting instead to make the business available for sale.

She and husband had started looking into “career jobs,” in preparation for their post-Gretchen’s Grains lives, when a casual comment made by her former employer presented a different opportunity:

“Literally, the same week we made the decision to move away from Gretchen’s Grains, Chris (Wissmar) made a joke to me that he wanted to sell (Circa),” recalls Williamson-Evans. “I told Bill, and we said ‘Let’s have a business meeting with him to see if he’s serious.’ And he was serious.”

Since assuming operational control, Williamson-Evans says she and her husband have been working to learn all aspects of restaurant operations, while also drawing from their own past experience in the industry to keep the transition from disrupting the stability of the existing restaurant.

All three of the couple’s children were born in New Orleans, where Bill was born and once worked as a line cook. The family’s fondness for the Crescent City and its food have already shown themselves in some of the early changes at Circa.

“We’re adding a New Orleans flair into things,” says Williamson, a Washington native. “Every Monday, we’re having red beans and rice. We now have fried oysters, which you can add to anything. We’re just a big New Orleans family.”

Williamson-Evans says she’s also working with other local restaurateurs on a Mardi Gras event for the area and potentially hosting a Louisiana-style traditional crawfish boil when the season hits, flying live crawfish in for the event.

Regulars can also watch for the addition of a late-night happy hour with $5 drinks and appetizers, as well as the abolition of Circa’s midday shutdown that currently closes the restaurant between lunch and dinner.

Beyond that, though, past customers can expect Circa to largely keep in line with the things that have kept the restaurant successful for so long, including keeping the same long-serving staff, most of whom are personal friends of their new employer from her time as a co-worker. Many of Circa’s servers have worked there for several years and have already helped inform some of the initial changes by presenting customer wants and needs.

“I’m just constantly asking them for ideas. I told them, ‘Please, here’s a blank ideas-book. You can be completely anonymous. If you don’t like a change, write it in here. If you have an idea for something we need to try, write it in here,’” says Williamson-Evans. “From that, we’ve gotten some amazing ideas that seem obvious once you hear them. After all, they’re the ones who know what people want. They are the most-amazing resource for details.”

Along the lines of making minor adjustments to accommodate guest needs, past requests have led to stocking vegan coffee creamer, vegan breakfast patties, and gluten-free bread, not to shift the overall dietary scope of the restaurant menu, rather to just try to be more inclusive of their neighborhood patrons.

“It’s easy enough to bring those things in and make some people happy.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to the reader who tipped us about the Circa change – we appreciate story ideas and tips of all kinds, not just breaking news – editor@westseattleblog.com or text/voice 206-293-6302 any time!)

48 Replies to "West Seattle restaurants: Circa in Admiral changes hands after 18 years"

  • sam-c January 27, 2016 (12:28 pm)

    Best of luck to you guys! Sounds like they are making some good changes.A Mardi Gras event? Like for 2016 (coming in less than 2 weeks?)  Sounds fun!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:38 pm)

      Sam C yes! We are having a boil on Feb 9th noon-5:00 with crawfish coming off the pot about every hour or so. Come eat baby! _Gretchen

  • Dan January 27, 2016 (12:57 pm)

    We could be more excited for you and your team GW!!!  I’ll swing up there soon for a tasty burger!  You are amazing and your staff is top-notch, you guys are going to take this great place to the next level!!!-Your friends at Peel & Press

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:40 pm)

       Thanks Dan! Come visit us for Mardi Gras and we’ll throw some crawfish your way. Y’all are the sweetest!

  • Kristin January 27, 2016 (1:02 pm)

    Congrats to the new owners. I’m all for incorporating some new elements but don’t change what isn’t broke. Circa is one of my fav (if not #1 fav) West Seattle restaurants.

  • seattle_sunburn January 27, 2016 (1:10 pm)

    I didn’t know vegan options were offered. Thank you! There are a lot of us vegans in West Seattle with not many places to patronize this side of the Duwamish.

  • datamuse January 27, 2016 (1:33 pm)

    Sounds like a positive transition all around. (And crawfish boil??? Sign me up!)

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:41 pm)

      Hey Feb 9th in the parking lot we are boiling noon -5ish. Come eat! We will send info to WSB soon…

  • Freshy's January 27, 2016 (1:55 pm)

    Gretchen and family-  congrats!  I’m so excited for you and all that you have accomplished!  Love knowing that the legacy will go on and by such a nice family:). Welcome to (as restaurant owners) the neighborhood!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:42 pm)

      Amber! Thanks so much. So sweet. We are so excited to be part of the west seattle family of restaurants. Pinch me!

  • Mike January 27, 2016 (1:57 pm)

    Don’t mess with the Steak Salad!  It’s perfect the way it is! :)  Congrats to the new owners..

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:43 pm)

      We would NEVER mess with that salad! :) -G

  • Eric T January 27, 2016 (2:09 pm)

    Don’t change the hand-cut fries either. Best in Seattle

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:50 pm)

      Those shall remain EXACTLY as they are:)

  • weiss January 27, 2016 (2:51 pm)

    Just went on Monday. Other than a few new items, the menu remained largely intact. Meatloaf wrapped in bacon was happily consumed.

  • Lindsey January 27, 2016 (3:04 pm)

    Circa is one of the best places in WS and definitely our go to place for a good meal and cozy atmosphere. Love the Butternut Squash Tacos!

  • Annie January 27, 2016 (3:53 pm)

    I already love Circa but add in the fact that some NOLA natives are taking over?  Could I love it any more?  RB&R?  Sign me up!  Mardi Gras Event?!  I’ll be there with beads on!  Crawfish Boil????  Is this a joke?!  Best of luck to you – can’t wait to try it all out!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:44 pm)

      Bring your beads baby! noon-5:00 on fat Tuesday. We will be in the parking lot (naturally). Expect good crawfish and zydeco blasting!

  • onion January 27, 2016 (3:55 pm)

    For my wife’s sake, please consider bringing back the creme brulee medley. We visited a couple of weeks ago after watching a movie at the Admiral, and she was extremely disappointed to learn that Circa no longer offered the medley, possibly her favorite dessert in West Seattle.

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:45 pm)

      Duly noted. I loved serving that medley. Keep a look out!

  • onion January 27, 2016 (3:55 pm)

    I forgot to say, best of luck and much success to you!

  • JoeWS January 27, 2016 (4:00 pm)

    Maybe  more comfortable seating?

  • Gina January 27, 2016 (4:24 pm)

    The meat salad must stay. Please?

  • Bob January 27, 2016 (5:25 pm)

      A great change would be to stay open all afternoon, not everyone eats during the “lunch hour” 

  • Rikk January 27, 2016 (6:15 pm)

    Congrats, we will be putting this on our to do list when we get up north!!!   

  • elain January 27, 2016 (6:39 pm)

    Please do NOT change anything about the steak salad!  Or the chocolate cake — those are the two things I always go for at Circa and they never disappoint!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:46 pm)

      I PROMISE. We aren’t touching those dishes with a  ten foot pole:)

  • Pibal January 27, 2016 (7:08 pm)

    If Bill ran a flight school in New Orleans, he may have heard what we airline crews affectionately called the Moisant Int’l employee cafeteria: Antoine’s on the Ramp.  It was my introduction to gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets.  Circa has always been a fav and f you add this combo on another weeknight, I’ll be there vent more often. Best of luck!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:51 pm)

      He ran Gulf Coast Aviation and knows exactly what you speak of. Come visit and talk NOLA shop with him! Better yet, we are boiling on fat Tuesday in the parking lot from noon-5:00. Join us!

  • Angelique McClellan January 27, 2016 (7:17 pm)

    Awesome, good luck and great neighborhood story.

  • Justin January 27, 2016 (7:24 pm)

    We were lucky enough to be having dinner there a few weeks ago when Gretchen was our server and struck up a conversation. She’s a lovely person and Circa will remain one of our local favorites for years to come.

  • JumboJim January 27, 2016 (8:35 pm)

    I also love the steak salad. Here’s another vote fo keeping that!I appreciate how consistent your restaurant has been. Good Luck!

  • Curate January 27, 2016 (9:23 pm)

    Four notes: 1) KEEP the burger & fries exactly like they are! Best in W. Seattle. 2) Ditto for the Butternut Squash tacos ~ favorite restaurant dish anywhere. 3) And don’t you dare touch that chocolate cake & vanilla ice cream. 4) Congrats on your new venture! This is our family’s favorite WS restaurant. We’ve been going there monthly for 15(!) years.

  • David January 27, 2016 (10:39 pm)

    A liquor license – finally! That’s often the reason we opt not to go to Circa because we’re in the mood for a cocktail.  Otherwise, love the place!

  • CBOB January 27, 2016 (11:28 pm)

    Please don’t change the hashbrowns! I fantasize about them! Congrats and I’m glad Circa is staying in the hands of WS folks!

  • MsD January 28, 2016 (12:49 am)

    Crawfish boil would be awesome!  (But, I don’t think you can bring live mudbugs into Washington state unless the law has changed recently. )  If you can swing it, do the traditional Cajun style with corn on the cob and red potatoes. BTW, if you make hushpuppies a side with those fried oysters, my family will be there at least once per week!

  • Camille January 28, 2016 (8:11 am)

    Congratulations, Gretchen! I’ve always been a Circa fan and to see it in your capable hands is wonderful, indeed. You were always my favorite server, funny and warm, and we always felt lucky if you were working. I can’t wait to get back up there to say congrats in person! I’m so excited for your family’s new adventure! Best of luck to you and Bill! I can’t get the smile off my face!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:48 pm)

      Camille! It’s been so long. I’ll be there most of the day and night tomorrow if you can swing in to say hello. It’d be delightful!

  • junctioneer January 28, 2016 (8:29 am)

    Echo the above sentiments, congrats: this is the best place to eat in any of the junctions. (1) best burger/fries in West Seattle (2) butternut squash tacos are my and many others’ favorite dish anywhere. Whenever I get something else at Circa I inevitably wish I had gotten either of those two things. But, oh, if you ever brought back the butternut squash ravioli!

    • Gretchen January 28, 2016 (8:49 pm)

       That ravioli was the BEST. Ok, you’ve got my wheels turning…..

  • Catherine January 28, 2016 (9:57 pm)

    The BEST steak salad I’ve ever had!  I’m happy to hear that it probably won’t change.  Congratulations on taking on one of the best neighborhood restaurants around.

  • Kathleen Voss January 29, 2016 (8:22 am)

    I lived in New Orleans for 8 years in and around college. I was at Igor’s on St. Charles EVERY Monday night for their free RB&R (with a slice of or two of cheap white sandwich bread on the side). It would simmer all day on the stove until it reached its perfect smokey, savory goodness. Add in a few beers and it always made for a perfect evening.Any chance you could offer a vegetarian batch as well?  I can’t believe that it might be an option again! My husband and I can share a new/old tradition with our daughter! Congrats Gretchen!

  • Dennis January 29, 2016 (10:04 am)

    Circa is our favorite Admiral Junction restaurant. We love the staff. Looking forward to the addition of Cajun to the menu. We so miss the Kingfish Café and Burke’s Café since they have closed. Now we can get a little bit of Creole within walking distance of our home. Sweet Potato Fries, Meatloaf, Crab Cakes, Lamb Burger, Steak Salad forever!!!! Will you do a traditional Irish meal for St. Patty’s Day?

  • LyndaB February 8, 2016 (10:27 pm)

    Beignets, please?   Mardi Gras Donuts closed last year.  Maybe talk with them?  :), Also, congrats on the your new endeavor! 

  • Jeannie February 9, 2016 (2:35 am)

    Lyndab, are you sure about Mardi Gras Donuts? If that’s true, I’ll be very sad indeed. I didn’t go there often (I don’t need the calories), but their beignets and donuts were terrific – fresh and reasonably priced. The place was hipster-free (unlike some highly overrated donut shops), and the owners were the nicest people. Hate to think this small, friendly business is no more.

  • raywest February 9, 2016 (4:18 am)

    I’ll definitely be going soon. I always liked Circa but it seemed like the relatively small menu, though always very good, never changed. A shot in the arm of new blood is just what this place needed. I love the idea of a New Orleans flair being added.  Good luck and see you soon.

  • Das February 11, 2016 (12:37 pm)

    I’ve loved Circa for years. Chris created a very successful restaurant with excellent service and food. Anyone know what he’s moving on to do? Wish him the best of luck  

  • Francis February 12, 2016 (6:38 pm)

    I lived outside of New Orleans for almost 20 years.  Happy to give it a try.  Please don’t change too much, I always found Circa consistently delicious.  Great burger with good meat and real fries not the frozen in a bag kind!!  I hope you keep it! 

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