James Lim is tired. “I’ve been sleeping probably like, three to four hours a night for the last 20, 30 days. I just pass out in the middle of day sometimes,” he says. “My partner is like, ‘Hey, wake up and go sleep in the bed.’”
Lim is the owner of Watson’s Counter, a Korean-influenced brunch-centric restaurant that’s become famous for dishes like its Fruity Pebbles-coated French toast, loco moco, and chicken wings. The chill, welcoming vibes belie how painstaking Lim is about every last detail. The French toast, for instance, is served with orange-rosemary whipped cream; the loco moco hamburger patty is a blend of chuck, brisket, and pork belly; and the restaurant makes its own caramel, chocolate, and chai.
Watson’s Counter even roasts its own coffee, an unusual move for a place with such an extensive food menu. But Lim has a background in the coffee world, and wanted the coffee to be exactly the way he wanted it. “It gives me more control about what we can serve,” he says of roasting his own beans. He favors very light roasts that give the coffee a lot of acidity and brightness. “Letting fruit be fruit is a big part of what I believe in for coffee,” he says. “It’s not fruit anymore when you’re burning carbon. Instead of adding carbon, we have fruit juice.”
Running a restaurant that doubles as a roastery would be a demanding enough job as it is, but for the past several months Lim has taken on even more, overseeing the relocation of Watson’s from the original location on 15th Avenue Northwest to new digs on 24th Avenue Northwest near Northwest 64th Street, right next to Copine.
He tells Eater Seattle that he secured the new location late last year and was paying rent on both places for months as multiple contractors (including one who “ghosted” him) worked on the new space. Watson’s closed its doors in March, and is only reopening this week after a long period of staff training and friends-and-family-only test runs.
Watson’s is adding soft serve to its arsenal, as well as wine and beer, but the biggest change from Lim’s perspective is more space — the seating capacity has gone from 22 to about 40 (with benches outside for the coffee-and-pastries crowd), and there’s more kitchen room for the staff to work.
This move is a “gambit,” Lim says, that’s necessary due to the aftermath of COVID-19. After first opening in 2019, Watson’s had to shut its doors because of the pandemic, during which time it “accrued a lot of debt,” Lim says. Moving meant sinking even further into the red, but the larger space will allow Watson’s to serve more customers per day and capitalize on the eagerness of the restaurant’s many fans.
That eagerness has been almost a problem for Lim at times during the move, with people showing up at the door and asking if Watson’s was open, even when the space was visibly under construction. On Instagram (where Lim is very active, with a strong Simpsons meme game), he was deliberately coy about the address of the new location before dropping it late last month.
“We kept it kept under wraps, because especially once we gave out the location, people were coming in, knocking on the door: ‘Hey, we just want to say hi,’” Lim says. “Which is like, wonderful, right? Like, oh my gosh, that’s an incredible blessing. It really is. But at the same time, it just slows us down from getting things done.”
The sprint until reopening is over, though, and Watson’s devoted fans can once again eat that Fruity Pebbles French toast — now underneath an oversized French toast decoration hanging from the ceiling. And hopefully, Lim can get a bit more sleep.