Dacha Diner bringing Eastern European comfort food to Capitol Hill

New restaurant slated to open this winter

Dacha Diner bringing Eastern European comfort food to Capitol Hill

Dacha Diner bringing Eastern European comfort food to Capitol Hill

The Independent Pizzeria owner Tom Siegel describes his upcoming Dacha Diner as an unpretentious place to come for Eastern European comfort food. The difference in the two restaurants will be night and day, says business partner Joe Heffernan.

Heffernan started working as Siegel’s apprentice at The Independent six years ago, and took over the kitchen when Siegel and his wife, Tora Hennessey, moved to the East Coast in 2014 so she could attend college there. The couple returned to Seattle last year, and plans soon started for a Dacha Diner, a restaurant concept that had been incubating since even before The Independent, according to Hennessey.

“Lots of brainstorming and testing,” Heffernan said. “This is what has come about from six years of collaborating and daydreaming.”

Soon after Quentin Ertel announced he was closing The Saint in Capitol Hill, after a decade serving tacos and tequila, Siegel and Heffernan announced on The Independent’s Facebook and Instagram pages that Dacha Diner would take its place at 1416 E. Olive Way.

Heffernan said they met Ertel through their real estate broker, The Saint founder wanting to wind down the business he started in 2008. In the last year Ertel had remodeled the interior, stopped and then restarted selling tacos, and painted the exterior pink. That color will not continue with Dacha Diner.

While The Saint was an awesome bar, Heffernan said, he feels more pressure to make Dacha Diner fit in with the historic building and neighborhood.

“The Saint’s been here for 10 years,” he said, “the building’s been here a lot longer.”

The only thing The Independent and Dacha Diner will have in common are their chefs and triangular buildings.

“It’s true, we like the triangular shape,” Heffernan said. “I guess that’s the connection to The Independent — it’s shaped like a pizza slice.”

Dacha Diner is an homage to not only Siegel’s experience growing up Jewish in New York, but also the time he spent running a catering business in the Czech Republic in the early ‘90s. Siegel had just finished college, and he went to Prague thinking he had a job at an architecture firm, but it turned out he didn’t. Within three months, he said, he was a partner in a catering business.

“Where the construction workers ate, that’s kind of the food I fell in love with,” Siegel said. The food was unpretentious and, when done right, “pretty spectacular.”

Dacha is Russian for a cottage or summer cabin, which were gifted to families during the Soviet era, and many still exist in the countryside there today.

Siegel and Hennessey, along with Heffernan and his partner, Ruth Bryan, who grew up in Russia, took a trip to Eastern Europe back in March, including the Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania, where Siegel’s family is from.

“The idea was already something we had been kicking around and exploring,” Heffernan said. “Ruth was able to translate for us, and I think the things we saw, the foods we ate and the people we met all really inspired us.”

“This project, there’s a lot behind it that’s woven into it,” Siegel said, adding a nod to New York’s former Borscht Belt on the lower eastside.

Dacha Diner will serve breakfast and lunch, and include Jewish fare and a number of staples in Eastern European cuisine, but also lesser-known foods from Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia, Siegel said.

There will be a healthy number of dumpling options, plus cabbage rolls, blintzes, brisket, latkes, borscht and a variety of housemade pickles.

“Just pretty humble comfort food, but we’ll be exploring other regions and countries,” Siegel said.

While The Independent is focused on beer and wine, Heffernan said, Dacha will have an excellent coffee program and drinks focused around infused vodkas. 

As with The Independent, Hennessey is taking the lead on designing Dacha Diner’s space. She and Siegel opened The Independent in 2010 without financing assistance, which Hennessey says is how it got its name. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and received duel degrees in design and fine art in 2017.

Heffernan and Siegel plan to split chef duties between The Independent and Dacha, and will be adding staff at the new restaurant, which is slated to open in November or possibly December.

“It’s not going to be elaborate,” Siegel said. “It’s going to be more, I would say Spartan and well designed and lighter — lots of natural light.”

Keep up with Dacha Diner’s progress on Facebook and Instagram.