The motto of Geraldine's Counter, the latest arrival in Columbia City's business district transformation, is for customers to leave with a smile on their faces and a warm feeling in their tummies. Upon entering the light-filled space located on the corner of South Ferdinand Street and Rainier Avenue South the customer experiences a kind of deja vous.
The space, designed by architects Arellano and Christofides, is at once familiar yet brand new. Walls are washed with soft chartreuse green and warm butter tones except for two in the L-shaped dining room which are made from original brick. The seating at the booths, tables, and a roomy red counter complete with spinning stools, is retro 1950s diner ramped-up to an ultra hip level. The whole place is Wi-Fi friendly, of course.
And then there is the light. There are windows everywhere pouring in light, and this includes the bathrooms. The space, formerly occupied by a church and a shoe repair shop, took nearly two years to renovate, according to owners Gary Snyder and Stacey Hettinger.
"We had to go through a whole application process and interview with the landlords Peter Lamb and Tom Reid before we even went after our business loan," Snyder stated. "They told us this was a destination area and wanted to make sure our concept wouldn't compete with other businesses. Having a breakfast place was a real need in the community."
Snyder and Hettinger, who also co- own El Greco in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, learned of the space and possibilities that Columbia City offered through their friendship with Joe Fugere, the owner of Tutta Bella down the street.
"We watched how well Tutta Bella did, and we slowly started to get to know the area," said Hettinger smiling, who lives in the Queen Anne neighborhood. "We have met the most amazing people here. There's a nice mix of everyone."
Snyder added that the area has a small town vibe.
"It feels like an old fashioned neighborhood. We're just really astonished by the clientele- young, old, families, gays, lesbians, and long timers. One woman, who is 85, came in and told me how she used to wait tables in the area," Snyder said.
Both business partners are counting on Geraldine's becoming a neighborhood mainstay, and judging from their extensive careers in restaurants they are off to a fine start. Hettinger, 35, grew up in a little Montana town and spent the past 18 years working in multiple aspects of the restaurant business.
Snyder, 40, hails from Los Angeles, grew up working in his dad's grocery store. The restaurant is named after his mother, Geraldine.
"The name Geraldine is the kind of name that makes you smile when you say it, and it fits the neighborhood," Snyder explained. "It's a name that says we don't take ourselves too seriously, like this place. We want this place to be a real neighborhood stomping ground. A hangout place where you can get breakfast and lunch all day long, a mainstay to the community. We want to offer our customers wonderful food and excellent service in a comfortable place. It should be an effortless experience for the customer."
Hettinger proudly shared that all of their produce comes from Frank's Produce in Pike Place Market. Their chicken sausage and all natural beef burgers come from Cascioppo's, their bacon comes from Bavarian Meats, breads from Macrina's Bakery and Gai's Bakery, coffee is from Café Vita, and loose leaf teas from Barnes & Watson.
Geraldine's Counter offers breakfast and lunch all day long every day, so a customer can have either meal at any time of the day, unlike some other restaurants that limit meals to set hours.
The food is unique but homey as well, echoing the notion of comfort food with a twist.
"We do our eggs French style, which means they're scrambled and then baked," Hettinger noted. "Our French toast is marinated overnight, and we offer vegetarians lots of options on both breakfast and lunch menus, which include kids' items. We'll gladly accommodate customers' requests, too."
The breakfast menu features 15 items plus sides, including casseroles, pancakes with a changing array of fresh fruit, unique omelets, plus a fresh coffee cake that changes daily.
The lunch menu features 13 entrees from burgers with homemade balsamic onion relish, BLTs, Reubens, unusual salads, chili, pot pies, sweet potato fries and regular fries, and a great mac-and-cheese.
On a recent visit, Andrew Macfarlane the manager of the Columbia City Ale House, sat at the counter nursing a cold and tucking away an egg breakfast at 11 in the morning on a weekday.
"The food is great- fabulous. We needed a breakfast place here in Columbia City. The area is really coming alive," Macfarlane asserted. "Last night I had dinner in the neighborhood and went to the movies at the Columbia City Cinema. The streets were alive with people. It was a really pleasant experience and it's nice to now have a breakfast place."
Sitting at a table next to the huge windows overlooking Rainier Avenue, Jennie Goode and Kristen Pula were enjoying a wild mushroom omelet, the avocado and pepperjack omelet, and a huge piece of the daily coffee cake. They reside a mile south of Geraldine's and have lived in the neighborhood for the past two years.
"We were hoping for a breakfast place," Goode said. "The area has lots of restaurants but not a real place to have breakfast."
Pula, who works nearby at the nonprofit agency Homesight, was excited to have the restaurant in the neighborhood.
"It's an open space, filled with light. It seems like it's good for families, too. It's cozy, and it feels like a community," Pula observed. "Columbia City has a nice mix of people here. There's a real balance of community."
But not everyone eating at Geraldine's Counter lives in the neighborhood. Apparently the word is already out about the place.
Larry Brown, a businessman who lives on Mercer Island and who works downtown, came in to give the place a try. He's visited Columbia City many times. He was savoring the homemade corned beef hash.
"I have a real interest in revitalized neighborhoods, and I am excited by Geraldine's. It's a nice clean space, I really like the décor, and the food is delicious, " he said, returning to his entree.
Geraldine's Counter is open weekdays, Tuesday-Fridays from 7-3 and on weekends from 8-3. Closed Mondays. It is located at 4872 Rainier Avenue. For more information, call (206) 723-2080.
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