When Lost Lake Café opened two years ago today, there was nothing quiet about it. A Twin-Peaks-nostalgic 24-hour diner by David Meinert and Jason Lajeunesse—two thirds of the Big Mario's partnership—was big news on Capitol Hill, surprisingly so for such a neighborhood of night owls. A fire in the space a month prior had already wrenched opening plans, so when it was finally time, Meinert and Lajeunesse just announced on their personal Facebook pages. But... the crowds flocked anyway. The pair never had to dip into the initial ad money they budgeted and were undoubtedly open for business, theoretically never to close.
A year ago we checked in with the Lost Lake team, counting the diner's celebrity stop-ins that far—Twin Peaks' Kyle McLaughlin, Macauley Culkin—and Meinert and Lajeunesse's unanticipated acquisition of the Comet Tavern. Now by their biennial, they've seen the likes of Dave Chapelle and Ken Griffey Jr. (who filmed a Nike commercial on site), and brought on business partner Joey Burgess with whom they formed a full-on restaurant, bar, and entertainment group, Guild Seattle. Last November the Guild added Grim's and the Woods to their arsenal, and just last month announced the new Italian restaurant they are opening in the old Kingfish Café space at 19th and Mercer.
As is mandatory from any round-the-clock diner, it hasn't all been glorious (remember the Google glass incident?), but the owners have learned a few things, which they summarize below. Toast to two years at Lost Lake all day today (which means till midnight!) with $2 burgers and fries, $2 eggs Benedicts, $2 milkshakes, and $2 well drinks. Happy birthday.
What has changed at Lost Lake since you opened?
Jason: The biggest change to original vision and/or business model was the addition of The Comet Tavern to the Lost Lake complex. While it wasn't in the original plans, the expansion was a great opportunity that we are so glad we stepped into. At Lost Lake, we added outdoor seating last summer and we have continued to add fun stuff to the knick knack collection while tweaking decor, adding a shuffle board table, and more. Not to mention our renewed attitudes—we are all taking yoga and participating in group meditation! It's actually a cult now...so....
What have been the biggest challenges of the business?
Jason: We didn't anticipate how large the operation ultimately would become. All the growing pains associated with rapid growth were present, but those have also come full circle and we have a wonderful team in place at this time. Keeping consistency 24 hours a day in both the food and service is a monster challenge, without a doubt. The average restaurant is going to do two services, lunch and dinner. We are essentially doing five!
What have been the biggest surprises in the process of running Lost Lake?
Jason: Starting out, we didn't realize the opportunities a 24-hour diner would present for community engagement, networking and hosting local events. While I think we hoped that Lost Lake would be welcomed into the neighborhood, we honestly underestimated the amount of people we would reach and be welcomed by. Through Lost Lake Cares and other charitable functions, we have touched a large breadth of the community we previously had not come in contact with. We feel pretty lucky to be in such a position, and part of such a great community.
Have you had any more glassholes trying to sneak in since the fall 2013 incident?
Jason: They are from an age long ago... soon they will be antique and maybe finally cool... probably not. I think we are going to give it a couple years and have a glasshole reunion. Where's Nick!?
David: No. That unfortunate trend seemed to fortunately fail miserably.
What's your favorite thing on the Lost Lake menu right now?
Jason: Anyone who knows me won't be surprised when I say the brownie waffle. On a healthier note, one of my go-tos would be the mushroom hunter scramble.
David: Mine is our Philly Cheesesteak. I add some jalepenos and mushrooms to it. Amazing, especially at 2 a.m.
The Guild seems to be growing quickly. What do you think will be next?
Jason: We are just starting construction on a new Big Mario's in lower Queen Anne with our business partner Mike. Getting 19th open (name to be announced soon) is directly in front of us, and that should take us through the rest of the year. After that? We have one other project in our back pocket that we have been carrying around for a couple years that we might get to.
David: Aside from the project on 19th and a new Big Mario's, we don't have any immediate plans. But we're always looking and conceptualizing, while also trying to balance growth with a healthy personal life, which for me includes spending time with my daughter, and hopefully this year a lot of fishing.
What did you want to be when you were five? Did you see this coming?
Jason: I didn't see this coming six years ago! I've been working in the music industry for about 18 years, and while I thought the bar/restaurant thing would be an accompaniment to what we did in music after we built Moe bar, I didn't think that it would actually become my main focus. Funny how life works.
David: Five? A kid. I wasn't very aspirational at that age. But by ten I wanted to be a long haul truck diver à la Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald, Bo "Bandit" Dareille, and B.J. McKay. Following that I intended to be a fundamentalist Christian preacher.