« January 2013 Table of Contents
Networking: Kevin Davis
Chef/partner, Blueacre Seafood, Steelhead Diner, Seattle
By James Wright
January 01, 2013
When he was 23, an adventurous Kevin Davis took a job at a restaurant in Adelaide, Australia, sight unseen. On his first day he met a young Australian girl named Terresa (pictured above), also on her first day of work but as a waitress and hostess. He was in the country for eight hours when he met the woman who would become his wife, business partner and mother of his twin sons (and the daughter who’s on the way). Davis is clearly not afraid to take a risk — in life, or in the kitchen at Blueacre Seafood, arguably the hottest new seafood restaurant in Seattle, a city with more than its share of seafood restaurants. Now 47, the New Orleans native is reaping the rewards of his hard work.
His other restaurant, Steelhead Diner in Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, has been winning over locals and visitors to the Emerald City since 2007 with top-quality seafood at reasonable prices. The swankier Blueacre, which also serves only domestic seafood, is in the same spot The Oceanaire Seafood Room held before it was shuttered in 2010. The space is familiar to Davis, as he was Oceanaire’s chef when it opened there in early 2002 until 2006. The driver’s seat at Blueacre is a much more comfortable position for him, even though it involves — you guessed it — a lot more risk.
What was it like near the end of your stint with Oceanaire?
I worked hard at Oceanaire, and gave it everything I had. We beat the odds, opening a corporate seafood restaurant from Minneapolis in downtown Seattle. We got the accolades, and the city embraced us. But they had a couple of missteps, one in Miami and another in Pennsylvania, with openings pushed back, over budget by millions. Overnight, the dynamics changed, and I had a new echelon of bosses, numbers guys. Nearing 40, I was like, “I’ve already done this.” They felt their market was luxury and luxury seafood. They wanted to be the kings of it. When [the economy] crashed, luxury was a dirty word.
My wife [an accountant for Oceanaire from 2002-2005] and I were ready to go out on our own. She wrote the business plan [for Steelhead Diner] in like two days. And we did Blueacre on our own, no investors, on a shoestring budget. We barely did it, but we knew we didn’t want partners. We didn’t want to ask anyone to take a risk. It was a dicey time. By the same token, we wanted the rewards for taking that risk.
What were the early days of Blueacre like?
One month after it opened, Terresa had the boys. We had this 9,000-square-foot restaurant and everyone expected us to be as good or better than Oceanaire. It didn’t go without a hitch; people didn’t know what to think of it.
I was surprised to see that Blueacre does takeout lunches.
We have a very large restaurant in downtown Seattle, with a large kitchen. There are times when the kitchen is underutilized. We’re surrounded by all these businesses, there’s not much competition, no barrier into the market. It’s been great. Whether we do 100 box lunches or not, it still takes the same amount of people. Even if it’s not the kind of thing that chefs want to do, at the end of the day, in this economy, it’s what it takes to pay the bills. You have to have a broad appeal to the clientele: dishes under $20, dishes over $40. This has been our formula: diversity under one roof. We didn’t build the facility to suit our needs. We had to figure out how to use it to the best of its potential.
What’s on the menu this winter besides crab, halibut and oysters?
Those are staples, obviously. One of my favorite things all year is the winter king. It comes out of Alaska by the piece. A winter troll-caught king salmon, well taken care of, is the finest fish in the world. Black cod is another perennial favorite. The Chinese and Japanese buyers have fallen off of it. A year ago I couldn’t even buy it.