Veteran entrepreneurs breathe life into Gilman Village

March 16, 2010

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Sean Quinn, raised in Boston (which explains the Red Sox cap and Absolut Boston vodka bottle) sits in the Flat Iron Grill restaurant he and wife Barbara Paxa have opened in Gilman Village. By Greg Farrar

It’s been a long haul for some businesses in Gilman Village amid the clutch of an economic recession. Tried and true spots, like restaurant Sweet Addition, have left and other new ones have come and gone so quickly you can’t remember the names.

Yet, the quaint village remains a place where dreams are started.

Scrubbing and cleaning, painting and decorating — that’s the tough part for Snoqualmie resident and regionally renowned chef Sean Quinn.

“She’s doing the painting,” he said about his wife and co-owner Barb Paxa. “That’s her job and we’re getting there.”

By far, Quinn said he prefers being elbow deep in ingredients and manning the grill to create delectable dishes — it’s what he’s been doing for the past 26 years.

The couple opened The Flat Iron Grill, 317 N.W. Gilman Blvd., on Feb. 10, at the village’s heart, with a mission to bring adventurous twists to Northwest cuisine.

“I really like Latin food and Southern food,” Quinn said. “We’ll definitely use a lot of Northwest food and local stuff — produce, seafood and meats that we’ll work into the menu.

“It will really tie into the Northwest steak and seafood with a little twist.”

They aren’t the only ones, however. Paxa and Quinn join two other restaurants recently opened in Gilman Village, Macky’s Dim Sum and Billy Bob’s Burgers & BBQ. Each brings its own twist to Gilman Village and will hopefully help bring a resurgence to the area.

Working regionally for the past 26 years, Quinn comes with all of the knowledge necessary to make his business a success, including a client and employee base, Paxa said.

“There are a lot of people excited to have him return to the Eastside,” she said. “In fact, one of our service people has been with Sean for more than 12 years. They come to him to come back to work.”

But Quinn’s venture into the culinary world was nearly accidental, the result of an injury on the soccer field, he said.

“I played soccer. That was my life at Western (Washington University) until I blew my knee out,” he said. “In Bellingham, I started washing dishes at a Sea Galley and I haven’t been able to find my way out yet.”

In 1993, he returned to school, this time at South Seattle Community College as a student in the culinary program there.

After graduation, he rose through the ranks at The Keg to become an executive chef, after which he began a career at Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue as its executive chef. In 2000, he made the move to Seattle’s El Gaucho team.

Quinn has successfully helped create and open four restaurants in the greater Tacoma area, including El Gaucho in Tacoma in 2001; Asado, an Argentine steak house; Mesa, a Mexican concept restaurant; and Maxwell’s Restaurant and Lounge.

“You go to culinary school to learn how or why things go together,” he said. “But actually learning about restaurant operation, you have to go to work. That is the only way you get the restaurant business.”

The couple said they chose the former Iris Grill location in Gilman Village because of its location — downtown Issaquah, which allures both residents from Bellevue and Snoqualmie.

“Here, the household income is still pretty good and there is still a small-town feel,” Quinn said. “We want to give something new, different and fresh and that’s locally owned, a nice alternative to the chains.”

However, he still wants his restaurant to have the flavors and dining experience he is used to giving.

“In an economy like this, people are looking for value. You can’t serve them El Gaucho priced meats, though,” he said. “We took off the white tablecloths to give them that. We would rather see people in here two times a week than just once a month.”

They also have an affinity for the charm of vintage construction and the warmth of a small town-feel.

“We bought a 1910 farmhouse with wrap-around decks and have rebuilt it from the drywall out,” Paxa said of their downtown Snoqualmie home, which they’ve lived in for 10 years. “We like it because you can put your own stamp on it, kind of like this village.”

In phase two of their restaurant plan, Quinn said, he will turn the bakery area into a lunch counter.

Lunch service started March 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. So did happy hours from 2-6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close.

“I want to clean it up in here” by spring or summer, he said. “I’d like to do about six soups and a nice selection of salads with a variety of panini sandwiches.”

“We’re big soup fans,” Paxa said. “There just aren’t enough places to get a nice, hearty soup.”

The couple launched a Web site with previews of the types of food and drinks Quinn prepares.

“We want the residents of Issaquah and Snoqualmie to know we are happy to be here and be in business here,” Paxa said. “We are happy to support our local businesses so they stick around and we hope people will do that for us, too.”

On the Web

www.theflatirongrill.com

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241 or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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