Lombardis to bring Italy to Mill Creek
Mother-daughter team had looked at area earlier for Italian restaurant
Kurt Batdorf / Herald Business Journal
Lombardi's Restaurant founder Diane Symms (left) and Lombardi's CEO Kerri Lonergan-Dreke are working to open a new Lombardi's south of Mill Creek on Bothell-Everett Highway by the end of August.
Kerri Lonergan-Dreke, CEO of Lombardi's Italian restaurants
Diane Symms, founder of Lombardi's Italian restaurants
That owners Kerri Lonergan-Dreke and her mother, Diane Symms, find themselves opening a new restaurant after selling the original Lombardi's restaurant in Ballard in 2010 is something of an irony.
At the time, Symms was planning to retire, Lonergan-Dreke said. They had been dealing with a 2009 flood that damaged their Issaquah restaurant, which they were obliged to repair to fulfill the remaining years on their lease. They also saw that Ballard was changing. What was once Seattle's quiet enclave of retired Scandinavians when Lombardi's opened in 1987 had become a busy neighborhood filled with urban hipsters, especially in the last few years. It brought more customers, but it also brought more competition that left the local restaurant market "oversaturated," she said.
"It felt like a good time to sell (the Ballard restaurant) at a good price," said Lonergan-Dreke, a Lynnwood City Council member. "It seemed like the right time to scale back, to generate some cash flow for (Mom's) retirement." They also own the Lombardi's at the Everett Marina.
So, how does opening a new restaurant fit into Symms' retirement plans?
"Oh, it doesn't," Symms said with a laugh. "I failed that."
Selling the Ballard location and rebuilding the Issaquah restaurant left Symms and Lonergan-Dreke with a lot of extra restaurant equipment and a chance to do something they'd long talked about: buying their own restaurant building together.
Symms had dabbled in commercial property over the years, so she had a good idea of what to look for and where. Lonergan-Dreke saw the value of commercial property as an investment and wanted to own something. With a buyer's market for commercial real estate, they started shopping in 2011.
"Being our own landlords gives us total control over what to do with the space," said Lonergan-Dreke.
It also buffers the notoriously slim profit margins under which most restaurants operate, Lonergan-Dreke said.
Symms and Lonergan-Dreke at one time considered opening a Lombardi's at Mill Creek Town Center when it was under development several years ago. They liked the demographics and Mill Creek's upscale consumers, but they couldn't make the construction costs pencil out.
Back in the market they found a struggling restaurant a couple of miles south of Mill Creek on Bothell-Everett Highway, Lonergan-Dreke said. The mother-daughter team struck a deal to buy the building, located about a mile north of Thrasher's Corner.
"This Mill Creek location was attractive," Lonergan-Dreke said, even though it comes with a Bothell address. She said the new location is closer to Mill Creek in her mind.
Either way, the prospect of Lombardi's already appeals to the locals weeks before it opens. Symms said a couple wandered into the building and were delighted to learn it would be one of their favorite restaurants.
"They said this area needs a good restaurant," Symms said. "They were so happy that they won't have to drive up to Everett."
The building is being remodeled inside and out to reflect the Lombardi's theme.
"This building needed a face-lift," Symms said.
The exterior will feature a new pergola over a tiled entryway with outdoor seating. Italian cypress trees, a fig tree, screens and mood music will help shield diners from the traffic on the Bothell-Everett Highway.
The kitchen's stoves and a new stone pizza oven will be visible from the main seating area, and separated by windows from the bar, which is 50 percent larger than the lounge at the Everett location. More windows and a fireplace will define the bar from a group dining area. The pizza oven will also allow more menu options, Symms said.
Lonergan-Dreke said the building had "good bones" and its mechanical systems were all in good shape, but they had to gut the kitchen to fix its design shortcomings and accommodate the new pizza oven's exhaust fan.
Kris Korshaven, assistant general manager of the Everett restaurant, will oversee the new Mill Creek restaurant. Executive chef Jeremy Taisey and selected senior staff from Everett will "teach Lombardi's culture" to the new Mill Creek employees, Lonergan-Dreke said. She expects the new restaurant to employ about 40 people, bringing total employment to 110 in the three restaurants.
Symms said she's excited about her "retirement." While Lonergan-Dreke will become Lombardi's CEO and handle day-to-day operations, "I'll get to do all the fun stuff," she said.
Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; email@example.com.
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