The details of the building's history are murky but fascinating. Constructed in 1902, the United Commercial Traveler's Building is rumored to have housed a sweater factory, butcher shop, convention hall, punk club and, most recently, a photography studio.
Soon the structure located at 823 Fifth Ave. N. will be home to a new restaurant named Crow. Over the past few months the transformation has been startling. The formerly desolate box of a building - which looked every bit the part of a former sweater factory - has evolved from a vacant eyesore with boarded-up windows into a cheerful bistro.
Co-owner Jesse Thomas says the name of the eatery aptly describes the building: "In this culture, some see crows as scavengers or rascals. Every culture holds some significance in crows, primarily because they are mysterious and crafty survivors." Thomas smiles: "The same adjectives can be used to describe this building as well as my partner."
Thomas and his partner, Craig Serbousek, have not only survived but thrived in the restaurant industry. Both started in their teens as dish-washers, Thomas in Michigan and Serbousek in Iowa, and have found their calling as they worked their way up the kitchen ladder.
While Thomas never strayed from his first passion, Serbousek took a sabbatical from the restaurant business to earn a B.A. in marketing; upon graduation, he enlisted with the Peace Corps in Kenya where he lived for several years.
"After I returned to the States," recalls Serbousek, "I moved to Chicago and got a job in the business world - which I hated. I started working nights in a small bistro below my apartment building and quickly rediscovered my love for cooking."
Eventually both Serbousek and Thomas migrated to Seattle. Here they met several years ago while working at The Ruins, a private dining club. In 2000, Serbousek opened the Stumbling Goat but last spring sold his stake to concentrate on opening Crow with Thomas.
The process of selecting a location for their new venture was arduous, but the old building in Lower Queen Anne turned out to be ideal.
"This was the first spot that not only meshed with a concept that we were interested in, but also had an own-er who was ready, willing and able to do business," says Thomas. "Truthfully, it's not so much that we chose this location as the location chose us."
Once the location was finally secured, the renovations began in earnest. The co-owners obtained all of the permits and were involved with the planning of remodeling the exterior, gutting the future dining room and configuring the kitchen. While both partners agree they are not enamored with the drudgery of obtaining permits, they enjoyed restoring the building and have relished the daily progress.
Affable and open - much like the configuration of the new space - the owners promise there will be no boundaries on the type of food they will serve. While most of their training comes from European styles of preparation, they envision an atmosphere in which diners share dishes while experimenting with different flavors.
Crow will feature a revolving menu. "First, the seasons revolve," explains Thomas, "and the produce they generate is what we want to be working with. Also, the whole concept of experimenting with different foods compels us as cooks to revolve."
In addition to providing food service, Crow will have a bar. Although the official hours have not been finalized, the restaurant will open at approximately 4 p.m. for happy hour with appetizers, the kitchen will stay open until 11 p.m. and the bar will stay open as late as the demand necessitates. Weekend brunch will be served, and eventually there is a possibility that lunch will be served on weekdays.
In order to work out the kinks, the owners will invite friends and family to Crow for a test run, with the public grand opening July 4. Based on the amount of interest already, Crow should occupy the space on the corner of Fifth and Aloha for years to come, adding to the legacy of the building.
"The response from the neighborhood has been incredibly positive," says Thomas. "The neighbors seem so interested in what we're doing to the building, and it's been great having the opportunity to chat with the locals while we are making renovations. We look forward to the Crow being a neighborhood gathering place."