Fresh off a year of two James Beard Awards and accolades from local and national press, Seattle’s Edouardo Jordan settles in to what happens next: More customers, new expectations and building a future.
— Lesley Balla
It didn’t really hit until Edouardo Jordan got back to Seattle from Chicago last May, when he picked up two James Beard Awards for his Seattle restaurants: Best New Restaurant for the Southern-inflected Junebaby, and Best Chef in the Northwest, a nod to his first restaurant Salare.
On the stage and at the after-party, it was pure elation. Back home, it was back to work.
“Once we got off the plane, I told my team we show up, we win, we’ll go back and make great food. Nothing changes,” the chef recalled. “We still produce the same type of food and offer the same service.”
The wins were pretty sweet punctuation on an already big year for Jordan. With Salare steady, his sophomore effort, a love letter to his Florida upbringing and Southern roots (Junebaby was his father’s nickname), received tons of press, including local buzz, a three-star review in the New York Times and Eater’s Best New Restaurant of the Year in 2017. The restaurant was busy almost immediately after its opening, and with a no-reservations policy, waits are still commonplace, some up to an hour — especially at brunch. No matter the weather, it’s common to see fans lined up along the Ravenna neighborhood sidewalk eagerly waiting to eat boiled peanuts, pimento cheese and pickles, fried catfish, shrimp gumbo, and Sunday night fried chicken, among other Southern specialties.
The JBF Effect
The awards did make a difference. It’s busier — sales are up at least 10 percent at Junebaby, with an increase in covers from 185 to 260 on the busiest nights — but Jordan says his teams retain the same focus. The menu remains relatively the same, with some seasonal additions (there’s an encyclopedia to help the uninitiated on ingredients and dishes), and the restaurant is still first-come, first-served. The biggest challenges are meeting the expectations of both regulars and newcomers, and making sure both the front and back of house teams are trained to handle the new influx of customers.
“Nothing changed from the direction I wanted to go from day one, it’s just better executing what we set out to do, but I don’t feel locked in,” Jordan said. “We’re not a stagnant restaurant. It’s more about the efficiency of our cooks and the approach of our staff. Overall we’re managing our turn times better without suffering the quality.”
He sees not taking reservations as a significant part of the restaurant’s success. For one, people can’t make and then cancel a reservation, which can throw even the most well-organized restaurant off track on a busy night. The policy ensures people will show up in person to see how long it will be to get a table; they can’t just look online, see that their preferred times are booked and decide not to go.
Most Junebaby guests will wait, and passers-by seeing a line outside of a busy restaurant helps. But without a proper staging area, sometimes they need to go elsewhere until their table is ready. Luckily, sister restaurant Salare is only a three-minute walk away, a win-win for Jordan.
“Anyone who’s done their homework knows it might be 30 minutes to an hour wait at Junebaby before they get a table,” he added. “If they’re put off by the policy, we try to educate them and recommend places in the neighborhood to wait. There is a mutual benefit to Salare being on the same street. It’s synergy.”
Broadcasting the Message
One question everyone inevitably asks any JBF winner: Did it take an incredible marketing strategy to get there?
“Not at all,” Jordan said. “Not to hurt a lot of pillow talk out there, but I don’t even have a PR firm. My whole theory is that I’m going to make a great product, have great service and talk about it.”
The chef regularly walks the room at both of his restaurants, attends events around the country, and rubs elbows with his peers around the globe. He’s always smiling, personable and approachable, which goes a long way. All the extra exposure and success has helped him secure plans for this third concept, the Lucinda Grain Bar, which will open directly next to Junebaby next year. With a focus on heirloom grains for both the food and beverage programs, the 20-seater will be more cafe during the day and a bar at night — a perfect option to counter those wait times.
“The wins served as a megaphone to voice my opinion on food and the industry, and hopefully became an inspiration for people of color to keep your head down, work hard,” Jordan said. “And it’s opened up opportunities for me to meet people, cook in new places. Any opp in the future use this as a platform to figure out my next stages to figure out my next for my brand and restaurants. Hopefully they’ll be here for 30 years and on.”
Lesley Balla is a food, drink and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in regional, national, and online publications including Angeleno, Zagat.com, The Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly, Eater, Tasting Table and many more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @LesleyLA.