This is a food story about tradition, longevity, and family values: The tradition of lamb sausages and the longevity of fine wine.
Catherine Reynolds is the new face in the wine aisle at the venerable Leschi Market, under half a century of ownership by the Shulman family.
Reynolds is a longtime wine professional with experience in retail sales (Spanish Table, Pete’s) and her own online company (Queso y Vino). A decade ago she survived a scary threat to her health, a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her, and threatened to damage the neurons that allowed her to taste and smell. Fortunately, she recovered and was able to retrain her palate.
Now she’s working with the Shulman family, at Leschi Market, 103 Lakeside Ave. The store itself has occupied the space since the late 1940s when Hank and Shirley Edelson moved it down from 22nd and E. Union. Edelson’s nephew Leonard Shulman joined the crew after a remodel some 20 years later and his son Steve took over the meat department. Leonard is 85 and still comes to work; so does his young nephew Yousef.
In the course of its half-century, the Leschi Market has evolved from a quaint, old-fashioned little shop into a virtual community center. It’s not a trendy upscale supermarket with cascading flower baskets, wide aisles, track lighting, and overflowing produce bins, but a superb corner grocery that has almost disappeared from the urban landscape. There’s a terrific meat counter as well as an outstanding wine selection, which is where Reynolds comes in.
Originally from upstate New York, she moved west for the snow-capped peaks and the relaxed pace of life in the San Juan Islands. After she earned an masters degree in poetry, she took a job at Seattle Arts and Letters, then won a fellowship to travel through Europe. Upon her return she landed a spot selling wine at the Spanish Table and found herself in illustrious company in the annual Wine & Spirits roundup of up-and-coming sommeliers.
The wine department offers 6,000 bottles, which is easily as much as what a mega-Safeway stocks. Wine fills both sides of one of the Leschi Market’s main aisles, with even more choices at the front of the store. The store’s commitment to fine wine begins with a tasting committee of owners, the head wine buyer, Ken Benner, and a few outside connoisseurs chosen from the ranks of knowledgeable customers. And now, Catherine Reynolds.
Yes, there’s a fine little shop, Madrona Wine Merchants, at the top of the hill on 34th Avenue, and yes, there’s an assortment of generally inexpensive wines at the Grocery Outlet on Martin Luther King Way, but they can’t hold a candle to the breadth of wines at Leschi Market.
A couple of years ago the tasting committee decided to create a virtual winery as well. So far, there are four custom bottlings, labeled Leschi Cellars, from prestigious (but generally anonymous) wine producers: a pinot gris from Carabella Winery in Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, a rosé from the Horse Heaven Hills, and two reds (a 2016 blend from McNary Vineyard, and a 2014 Walla Walla Valley blend). Buy half a case and you’ll find they’re priced well below $15, so it’s no wonder they’re the store’s best selling wines.
A monthly wine newsletter goes out to about 1,000 customers with news of marked down wines and new arrivals. The newsletter is also posted on line. And customers come from all over, not just the Leschi Gold Coast. They buy the sausages (an array of over a dozen sausages, all made in-house from lamb and pork), they purchase Rosie’s organic chickens from Petaluma, California, they pick up the roasted prime rib (hot and ready to go Friday and Saturday afternoons), they order hams and turkeys for parties, and they order wine. Cases and cases of wine.
Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His new book about the local food and drink, “Forking Seattle,” is available through Amazon.com