Ethan Stowell, one of Seattle’s most successful restauranteurs, is about to launch what’s probably his biggest project to date: a casual climate-focused fried chicken sandwich chain called Mt. Joy.
Stowell, who owns about 20 restaurants in the Seattle area — from Queen Anne’s upscale Italian restaurant How To Cook A Wolf to casual SLU burger bar The Victor Tavern — is partnering up with some big players for his next project. Robbie Cape, Mt. Joy’s CEO, is a Seattle tech industry veteran whose telemedicine startup, 98point6, was valued at around $500 million when Cape left the company in 2021. Pat Snavely, another founding partner of Mt. Joy and its marketing lead, says the combination of Stowell’s restaurant expertise and Cape’s ability to grow companies, quickly, “is the magic” he believes will make Mt. Joy a nationwide success.
“We need to be a household name — hundreds, if not thousands, of stores,” Snavely says. “We need to be like the next Chipotle, but with a whole higher standard for transparency, sourcing, and quality of food.”
Snavely says the first location of Mt. Joy will debut in 2023 within Seattle city limits. And for those looking for a sneak peak, the restaurant is taking over pasta restaurant Tavolàta’s Capitol Hill location this month on October 14, 15, and 16.
Quick growth is important to the Mt. Joy team, but Snavely says that the business will not sacrifice environmental sustainability for this goal. The founding team claims the motivation behind the company is to fight climate change by economically supporting sustainable agriculture. Unlike any other restaurant of scale in the U.S., he says, Mt. Joy will only use pasture-raised chicken in its sandwiches (“pasture-raised” chickens are given much more time outside, with more room to roam, than “free-range” chickens). Additionally, all of the chickens will be sourced from within 200 miles of each restaurant, and the rest of the ingredients will come from within 500 miles — meaning that as the restaurant expands outside of Seattle, it will continuously need to source from new farms. Snavely says all of the farms Mt. Joy will work with will be ones which practice regenerative agriculture, a holistic approach to farming which focuses on having a minimal impact on the ecological systems a farm exists in.
“As we grow our business, we’re going to have to continue to grow our network of farms from the areas that we’re growing into,” Snavely says.
To meet this need, the Mt. Joy team recruited Grant Jones, a livestock farmer from a multigenerational farming family in Shelton, Washington, as its chief agricultural officer.
“He understands the plight of the farmer and has those connections,” Snavely says.
The pop-up at Tavolàta this month will feature chicken from Jones’s farm, Hungry Hollow, along with chicken from five other local farms. The simple menu, which was developed by Mt. Joy’s chief culinary officer Dionne Himmelfarb (coming from the Ethan Stowell Restaurants leadership team), features sandwiches made with spicy or mild fried chicken breast or thigh, served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, and a house sauce. The pop-up will also serve a portobello sandwich, fries, and milkshakes (vanilla, chocolate, and huckleberry.)
While Mt. Joy is the only Seattle-born chicken chain that’s aiming to build thousands of stores in the near future, it already has plenty of competitors in the area. LA-based Nashville hot chicken franchise Dave’s Hot Chicken has plans for ten locations around the Seattle area, and Al’s Hot Chicken (another LA-based Nashville hot chicken chain) has plans for 20 locations around the Puget Sound. That being said, neither chain uses pasture-raised chicken in its sandwiches, and Snavely is betting big on the brand’s green image to propel it to the national stage.