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 – email@example.com or text/voice 206-293-6302 any time!)