By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Shelby Varden sees California Avenue SW through the West Seattle Junction as having some of the flavor of Disneyland’s Main Street USA.
By the time the West Seattle Grand Parade comes marching and rolling down that street next month, he expects to have Shelby’s Bistro and Ice Creamery open right at the end of the route, on the northeast corner of California and Edmunds.
We brought you first word of the plan back in early April, but it was a quick update, after numerous readers spotted signs of activity at the 4752 California SW site, in what had been the abruptly closed Westside Public House, following the abruptly closed Terrible Beauty, among other predecessors. When we briefly caught up with Varden in the early stage of the remodel, he invited us to check back when his establishment was closer to opening – now set for July 19th – and we recently did just that.
Varden (above right) and recently hired chef Justin Reed (above left) gave us a tour of the space – now about 75 percent of the way to completion – and a preview of what they’re planning:
If you’ve been through The Junction lately, you’ve likely noticed the exterior paint, a sort of butterscotch, and the awning that was installed this past week (top photo). Varden says signage – including neon – is on the way too.
What you can’t see from walking, riding, or driving by, is the interior transformation, which is well on its way. You could call the color lemon yellow, or maybe more appropriately, French-vanilla yellow. The north wall holds a new mural (covered in plastic as a work in progress while we were there):
Further into the space, part of the south wall holds diamonds of colors that are the mostly pastel palette for Shelby’s. Overhead, brushed-nickel lighting fixtures were starting to take shape when we visited (they’ll sport different bulbs when everything’s done, we’re told).
If you have memories of previous establishments, this has almost zero echoes, except the placement of the walls (see “before” photos on this page of the Shelby’s website).
What will happen within those walls? Talking with Varden and Reed, we got a preview of that too.
What was the bar on the south side of the space, in its previous incarnations, is where the “ice-cream maestros” will be on view, making sundaes along the front two-thirds of the bar – no seating – while the back one-third will be the “service bar” for beer, wine, and other beverages – no hard liquor.
Multiple spaces will comprise Shelby’s, including a place to pick up takeout orders at the host stand in front (eventually they’ll have online ordering that you can even schedule well in advance), some corner seating to the right of the door where you can enjoy ice cream – the only part of Shelby’s that won’t be full service with wait staff. Booths and tables around the rest of the space will be in a variety of configurations for parties large and small, some combinable if you’re, for example, bringing a group – toward the back, there’s a set-aside area that could accommodate up to 40. Off the north side, a private area will be available for business meetings as well as parties, and businesses will especially appreciate the video monitor – though you will NOT find video screens in the rest of Shelby’s, Varden says.
Overall, the restaurant will seat up to 140, and Varden pointed out places where the server stations will be strategically located to “take care of guests’ needs” in a manner more thorough than what they’ve heard about previously uses of the space.
Meantime, the “family” aspect is intended to be much more than lip service. Besides including a kids’ menu, Shelby’s also will offer “activity sheets” to keep them busy at the table, and those sheets will change quarterly. And you can expect a “free sundae on your birthday” offer – with purchase of a meal.
What about the food? Reed calls it “standard (bistro) fare with a culinary touch” – and it will include “great pizza” as well as paninis, burgers, and brunch. “Some edgy” offerings will grace the latter. Vegan and vegetarian options are promised. Pastas, salads, “farm-to-table driven.” Varden adds, “A core menu – with some specials.” Back to the ice cream: a dozen or so sundaes, some sharable. In the spirit of Farrell’s, is mentioned, not the first time. They hadn’t settled on their ice cream provider when we talked, but hoped to offer at least nine flavors.
Both men have eclectic backgrounds, from the hospitality industry to, in Varden’s case, HR too. Varden’s past employers include Schwartz Brothers Restaurants and Starbucks, and his “Main Street” observation mentioned earlier has its roots in “Behind the Magic” training he says he received at Walt Disney World.
They hope to have happy employees as well as guests – “if our employees are happy, our guests will be too,” Varden explained. “We’ve (both) worked for some of the best … we want to give back.” Toward that goal, Reed hopes the kitchen staff will learn “how to do (things) the right way,” because he plans to be scratch-driven, and to employ “French culinary style” techniques. “We’re going to be an incubator of great chefs.”
Our tour included even-more intricate detail about the seating arrangements and some hints, such as “the restrooms are going to have cool finishes you won’t see anywhere else.” The restroom plans include, going back to the family theme, a changing table in the men’s room, too. Varden’s even looking ahead to year’s end, with holiday decorations planned.
First – with the July 19th opening date already announced, training will start right after the 4th of July. If you’re interested in working there but haven’t applied yet, hurry.
P.S. The current concept for hours is expected to be along the lines of 11 am-9 pm weekdays (closed Mondays), 9 am-10 pm weekends.