Suzi An has left her position at Salare and Junebaby. The creative director of operations had been at chef-owner Edouardo Jordan's stellar Seattle restaurants since the beginning in 2015, and by the time she flew to New York last month to accept her Eater Young Guns award, she'd tendered her resignation. An is known for helping propel Jordan's restaurants into the national spotlight, supporting his skills in the kitchen with strong PR, solid staff, and excellent wines. Now, she’s ready to be her own boss at Vita Uva, a natural wine store she hopes to open soon as a brick-and-mortar or an online project.
“I would’ve loved to have stayed and seen Edouardo’s brand grow further, but it was a lot of my time and of myself that I invested, and I realized I should be doing this for myself,” she tells Eater. Jordan, reached for comment via email, was succinct in his assessment of the situation: “Unfortunate timing for her departure. Wish her the best. Our train keeps on rolling!”
First at Salare — which opened to critical acclaim in 2015 — then at Junebaby — which landed in April and is already turning heads for its Southern fare — An encouraged diners in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Ravenna to embrace unusual wines alongside unexpected cuisines. “What I hadn’t realized was a lot of people that live there are only familiar with Northwest or California wines, so exposing them to [something different] was challenging but also really fun at the same time,” An says. “People come in, they see a Malbec on the list and they expect one thing, but when they taste it, it’s totally different from what they know.”
With Vita Uva, which translates literally to “life grapes,” An wants to further explore the interesting lives of grapes. “I want to share my passion for wine with the community, focusing on different soil types and how grapes that are the same varietal can be totally different expressions.” To accomplish this mission, she’ll showcase natural wines, an unofficial but growing category that involves much lower levels of intervention than conventional wines. Natural wines are typically made from grapes that are organically or biodynamically farmed, fermented by the grapes’ indigenous yeasts instead of domesticated varieties, and bottled with little to no sulfites. This hands-off approach can yield flavors wholly unfamiliar to the average consumer, including high levels of acidity or funkiness.
An says she’s interested not just in the sustainability of organic or biodynamic farming, but particularly in working with winemakers who are "in tune" with their process, starting with the climate and soil. "It’s quite poetic: [Some] winemakers pretty much use the entire ecosystem of their vineyard to produce wine. There’s just something about natural wines and the philosophy behind it that resonates with me. That’s how I want to live my life. I want to make cool shit and do cool shit and showcase it to the world, champion all this cool shit.”
The perfect opportunity arose recently thanks to one of An’s long-term friends and roommates, Yenvy Pham, who’s part of the family that owns Pho Bac, the local chain that introduced pho to Seattle in the early 1980s. As Pham and her relatives prepare to open Sup Shop, another Vietnamese restaurant by the original Pho Bac at 12th and Jackson, they’ve offered An a 65-square-foot extension off the building to open her retail-only wine shop.
Unfortunately, while An originally thought she might be up and running by this fall, she’s hit roadblocks with the Liquor Control Board, and suspects she may not be able to open the International District’s first wine store after all. Instead, she may shift her focus to e-commerce, which she already intended to be a component of Vita Uva. At this point, An’s plan is in motion, and she’ll push on as she continues to search for a suitable home for her vision. “I’m probably not the most qualified person to open a business,” she says,” “but whatever, why the fuck not? I’m young enough i can bounce back.”