I am a partner in all three ventures, yes.
The Racket and The Shakedown are really one entity. They share a kitchen and a liquor license, and the tap handles from The Racket come from the walk-in in The Shakedown. We treat The Racket as the primary space with an additional performance space—The Shakedown—that’s open a few days a week.
I have two partners in that project: Marty Watson and Holly Huthman. They owned The Shakedown for 4 years and then brought me on when they wanted to expand and were looking for investment. I’m a minority stake partner in that, but because The Racket is such a young project, I spend a lot of time there. I’m very hands on.
Myself and five other partners reopened Casa Que Pasa after it had been closed by a previous owner.
All those things are very unique, and they’re all very “Bellingham.” Where do these ideas come from?
Well the potato burrito existed before I came along because we were taking over a pre-existing business. But we try to understand what makes Bellingham unique from the places we’ve lived and amplify those things.
Rather than tell Bellingham what it should be into, we try to listen to it.
What does Bellingham need?
A few boutique hotels. I don’t think people realize how many visitors we get in downtown. I’ve worked as a bartender and in retail, and as you talk to people you learn about how many people attend as tourists. I used to see it all the time. And there is nowhere to stay in the downtown business corridor. Fairhaven has a great thing going on with the Chrysalis and the Village Inn, and they are packed.
What brought you to Bellingham initially?
College. I grew up in Tacoma and moved up here to attend Fairhaven College. My first year there, I apprenticed on organic farms for a while. Then I was in the philosophy program and the physics programs at Western for a brief moment before spending time in Europe. When I returned to Bellingham finally, I was making enough money bartending that I just never went back to finish at Western. It wasn’t a conscious choice to quit, I just was happy with the direction everything was going.
If you could go back to school right now, what would you study?
[laughing] I would do the 100 and 200 level of every program! I like to explore and learn new things, but I don’t want to get too deeply involved in any of those subjects. I’d always broaden my breadth of knowledge. And in this town—between Western, Whatcom, and BTC—this is a great town in which to do that.
If you are free on a sunny day in Bellingham where do you go hangout?
One of the parks for sure. I’m a big fan Cornwall Park and Elizabeth Park. I have a 3 year old, so that shapes much of what we do, and we have a dog so we spend some time at the off leash parks in town. We live in Sunnyland so Trader Joe’s and Kulshan are within walking distance.
Bellingham’s proximity to smaller communities is big for us. We like to take day trips to Lynden, Edison, and Mosquito Lake Road where we take a dip in the river.
And my wife and I are members of the Museum and the Pickford, so we love to hang out in both of those places. We like local theater at the iDIOM. And we really love local music, so we get out for that a lot too. I still play a lot of music, maybe 10–20 shows a year.
So what are the best music venues?
The Shakedown, naturally. Green Frog. The Swillery, Honeymoon, The Wild Buffalo, and Make Shift. We like the all ages shows at the Make Shift. I grew up driving up to the OK Hotel in Seattle, and throwing all ages shows in Tacoma, so I have a lot of love for the all ages venues.
What do you like best about your job?
I like creating spaces that become a big part of people’s lives. I have very strong memories of the coffee shop I hung out in in high school, of dates with my (now) wife at Temple Bar, of many places. And I think the chance to create spaces like that for others is a really special opportunity.
What do people misunderstand about what you do?
Some people think owners make a lot of money. But at restaurants, if you are making 8-10% off gross sales then you are a phenomenal success. The margins are so thin, so you need to be doing well all the time. You can’t have just one or two good days a week, you need to have 7 good days a week if you’re going to make it.
So people who start businesses in Bellingham aren’t in it to make a ton of money. They’re in it to create these spaces that people love.