With COVID-19 measures dramatically changing how restaurants look, one restaurant is making its pivot permanent. Later this month, chef Renee Erickson’s critically-lauded Fremont restaurant The Whale Wins will turn into The Whale Wins Cafe and Larder, a hybrid cafe and retail shop with counter service only.
As part of the transition, the restaurant plans to remove some seating and allow for an expansion of its current grocery selection. The spot on Stone Way N already sold wine and some basic pantry items, but will soon add refrigerated and frozen foods, including ice cream, yogurt, eggs, charcuterie, cheese, specialty beverages, meat, and fresh pasta. It will also expand its heat-at-home meal kits and CSA offerings, which launched during Washington’s stay-at-home order earlier this spring.
The cafe plans to add an espresso machine and serve customers from the counter with an all-day menu from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, including salads, sandwiches, and pastries available for takeout or limited dine-in. Among the items will be some longtime Whale Wins staples, such as fire-roasted chicken, pan fried zucchini bread, and sardine toast.
“During the stay at home, we learned a lot about what The Whale Wins’ Fremont and Wallingford neighbors are seeking,” Erickson says. “We’ve been getting suggestions on things we should offer, things guests crave and want us to keep, hours of operation — you name it. Stone Way has changed a lot since we opened eight years ago, and we are responding to these changes.”
This shift is a significant one. The Whale Wins always had a cozy, neighborhood feel, but still featured a more traditional table-service restaurant format for most of its eight years in business, serving up a variety of wood-fired French and English-influenced dishes. It was the third restaurant in Erickson’s mini Seattle empire when it opened, and garnered the chef plenty of accolades, including a James Beard Award victory in 2016.
But ever since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Seattle, The Whale Wins — like all restaurants in the city — had to find ways to adapt to a new reality. Erickson’s bistro is among many to offer pantry items, CSAs, meal kits, and a revised takeout menu, but the rebranding is one more signal that all those elements will be permanent parts of the dining scene going forward, not just a temporary adjustment (the chef’s Sea Creatures group also qualified for a sizable payroll protection program loan to help with the transition).
Until it makes the full transition to a cafe and larder, the Whale Wins is opening its patio for table service for a few more weeks, starting today.