T-Doug and Ethan are names everyone knows, but the most successful local restaurant entrepreneurs are a duo named Nathan Opper and Zak Melang. Opper was a home builder in Michigan before landing in Seattle; Melang, a bass player, moved here from North Carolina to play music.
Eight years ago, eager to launch a restaurant venture together, they found a grand old building--an abandoned lumber mill on the fringe of Historic Ballard overlooking Shilshole Avenue--but the buildout, back then, seemed daunting. Instead they leased a little bar at the intersection of Market Street and Ballard Avenue called Matador. There are now four Matadors in Seattle, two in Portland and one more in Boise.
Having learned how to work with classic spaces (Melang does the design and fabricates all the tables himself) and how to run restaurants, they returned to their first love, the 1927 lumber mill. This time they knew what to do: preserve the cedar beams by building an entire new roof, for example. A huge kitchen, a chef, Bo Maisano, from New Orleans. A GM, Kris Moser, who ran Il Terrazzo Carmine. They named the restaurant Kickin Boot, and the concept Whiskey Kitchen: the food, drink and flavors of America's broad southland. Barbecue, brisket, pulled pork, rib-eye steaks, gumbo, grits, catfish. Chicken with buttermkilk biscuits. Sweet potato pie. A bar heavy on bourbon and rye.
"It's not that Ballard is lacking for top-level dining, what with Bastille, Walrus & Carpenter, Staple & Fancy," Melang told Eater. "We want to add to that." the drawback for Ballard Avenue's restaurant row has been a lack of street parking. Melang will solve that problem by offering valet parking, a first for the neighborhood.
And the duo aren't done, not by a long shot. A second Whiskey Kitchen is planned for Portland, to be followed by a third concept, under wraps for now, involving seafood.