By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The Alki Homestead‘s neon sign is back atop the landmark log building by the beach.
Among those there to watch as Western Neon returned it this morning were Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive directors present and past, Jeff McCord and Clay Eals:
And the couple who just announced they will open the restaurant Il Nido at the Homestead, Chef Mike Easton and Victoria Easton:
The return of the sign – which Western Neon says it will illuminate tonight – is the latest milestone in the restoration of the former Fir Lodge since Dennis Schilling bought it in 2015. The sign came down in July 2016. SWSHS helped Schilling obtain a grant to partly fund the restoration.
Work to restore the building, which was operated as a restaurant until a fire did major damage almost 10 years ago, continues. After news that the Eastons would open a restaurant – sibling to their popular Il Corvo in Pioneer Square – we talked with him to get more details.
To be sure you’re clear, Schilling will continue to own the building – Il Nido will be its major tenant. Easton explains that he and his family have lived in West Seattle for three years, near Lincoln Park: “We are so happy to live there.” Ever since moving here, the Eastons have been looking for a WS location to open a restaurant. “There’s not a whole lot of commercial real estate [suitable for a restaurant] and whatever does come up is always sort of a handshake – none of the good spots never really hit the market. I had the good fortune of someone mentioning the Homestead was getting restored and would eventually be looking for a restaurant.”
So he found Schilling and introduced himself about a year ago, and the rest is history. It wasn’t an immediate click, though. “It initially seemed to be such a big project, just how much restoration needed to happen – I wrote it off as more than I wanted to do. But the building sort of has a haunting effect on you. Ever since the first time I looked at it, I was unable to stop thinking about doing a restaurant there.”
After meeting Schilling, Easton walked through the Homestead. “As striking as the outside was, the inside was what really struck me – the look and feel.” He’s seen some of the old photos “and the burned remnants.” As noted in the first coverage of his plan, the famous stone fireplace will be restored.
On to the restaurant itself. Since Il Corvo downtown – which has been open for seven years – is lunch only, and Il Nido will be dinner and brunch, he will be involved with both. But Il Corvo “needs less and less of my attention,” he says. “We have an incredibly good team,” led by Chef David Crutcher, and, says Easton, he primarily just checks in.
He’s looking forward to being able to do more and different things at Il Nido, since Il Corvo is so focused on chuning out “well over 300 bowls (of pasta) a day in four hours – we make almost 100 pounds of pasta every morning.” There are “handmade shapes” that he looks forward to making for dinner at Il Nido without having to hit the scale of Il Corvo; “we’ll be able to invest more” at the new restaurant, with a price point higher than Il Corvo’s “selling a bowl of pasta for just under 10 dollars … we can’t have an army of people making tortellini” at that rate.
Another difference: While Il Corvo has something different daily, Il Nido’s menu will change a little less often. As previously mentioned, seasonal produce will heavily factor into it.
In case you were wondering about parking – the lot adjacent to the Homestead will be available for the restaurant, Easton confirms; the SWSHS Log House Museum will continue to use it too, and since its hours are noon-4 pm Thursdays-Sundays, that’s mostly a non-overlapping time, but “we’ll negotiate how to share on the weekend” when Il Nido is open for brunch.
Now, it’s on with restoration and preparation, in hopes of a spring opening. We ask what’s left to do inside. “Everything!” laughs Easton. “It’s still quite a bit of a construction site. Dennis and his son Matt are doing an outstanding job on the restoration,” which includes bringing it up to all current codes – sprinklers are included.
“My wife and I are just very excited to take this on – she is a very big part of our business. I’m not the solo talent.” She handles “everything that isn’t cooking,” he adds.
As for him – this will be the next exciting development in a restaurant-industry career that goes back to his very first job at age 16. So Chef Easton brings a long history to a new venue in a building with history.
The transformation will be chronicled on Instagram at @ilnidoseattle.
ADDED THURSDAY NIGHT: The sign, lit!