June 2015, a Gay Pride reception. (Lots of visitors, no official photo.) Then the official Holiday Party. Today's visit was (yet again, ho hum) for Gay Pride; he just got there early. Dominic's comment: "This Airbnb is awesome."

Thumbnail image for Eisenberg w paraphernalia.JPGSix or seven years ago I wrote a snarky piece about a guy named Ian Eisenberg and a business venture called Zevia. Eisenberg was an internet entrepreneur (Blue Frog Mobile) but Zevia was a dietary supplement (or was it a soda?) that's since been sold to an outfit in Los Angeles. Meantime, the health & wellness game has proven a cushy spot for Eisenberg: he's positioned himself, at the intersection of 23rd Avenue and E. Union Street, as the Poobah of Pot and Maharajah of Marijuana.

The shop is called Uncle Ike's, an emporium of legal weed in all its forms. Cash only. Beefy security guards checking ID. A completely separate building for accessories. Skeptical neighbors. Intense scrutiny from the state liquor board.

"I'm not selling pot," Eisenberg told me, "I'm in the regulatory compliance business."

Among the regulations Eisenberg needs to comply with: Seattle's minimum wage laws. Called out by some of his employees for paying less, Eisenberg now tells Capitol Hill Blog that he's going to hire a human resources manager.

Salt of the Earth, yet again

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Salt shaker.pngYou've seen the headlines all week, that the FDA wants less salt in our food. The people who run the companies that load their products with sodium squeal like stuck pigs when this happens, and, invariably, the editors illustrate the piece with a picture of a salt shaker.

Goddamn it, the salt shaker in your kitchen and on your table IS NOT THE PROBLEM. The problem is the salt that's in the cans and boxes of processed crap you warm up in the microwave, and in the industrial sludge you eat in restaurants. All that stuff has way too much salt. You may think you're eating a healthy breakfast if you're putting unsalted butter on whole wheat toast, but there's a good chance you're ingesting 400 mg of sodium nonetheless, whereas a boiled egg, even when it's liberally sprinkled with salt, will
cost you less than 100.

But that's beside the point. Salt is not the enemy. Salt is good for you. Human bodies need salt; the cardiologists have finally admitted as much. Good grief. It's not "salt" or "sodium" that kills ya, it's the sewage.

First you move, then you rest

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Mt Rainier at sunset.JPG

Let's look at a notion that revolutionizes how we travel. Two notions, in fact.

The first: a concept that obliterates the need for a personal, private, selfish car. Sure, taxi cabs have been around forever, but you know how that worked out: smelly, unsafe vehicles piloted by greedy, deliberately ignorant drivers with no incentive to improve the system. Ugh.

Second: hotels. Some grand, of course, most not so much. The value for the owner was in the real estate, not in service that created loyal customers (except at the very top end). Conrad Hilton had the right idea, but that was two generations ago: a worldwide network of hospitality. All downhill from there.

Today, short-haul transportation is revolutionized by smart phones. You don't have to "call" a cab company dispatcher and wait for a surly driver to show up; you see who's nearby on your phone, tell the app where you want to go, and you get a commitment right away. Often half the price. By the way, this has nothing to do with "ride-sharing," a pejorative misnomer the traditional cab companies were quick to pin on Uber et al.

And a visit to Aunt Minnie in Minneapolis, to whose house-cats you're fatally allergic? No need to forgo the visit (or the inheritance). Stay in the neighborhood, but at someone else's house. Another app, a bed & breakfast nearby. No chain hotels, no haggling over corporate discounts, done.

Hey, not so fast. Two legacy industries threatened. The cabbies and their medallions (huge cash generators for municipalities on the one hand), and hotels (with lodging taxes, etc) on the other. Predictably,a hue and cry from both camps whose oxen are being gored.

If I were a hotelkeeper trying to pull up the drawbridge, I'd align myself with conservative politicians but progressive public sentiments. "Uber drivers are rapists," for example, played pretty well. Today's version: Air BnB takes affordable housing off the market. Tim Burgess carries that torch, even though there's not a lot of credible evidence to support it. Raw numbers? In Seattle, assuming full-time use of every registered Air BnB apartment or private room, perhaps 5,000 units. This in a city with 100 times that many residences. Take them off the housing market and what happens? Nothing. No effect, zero. Air BnB units are not commercial real estate that would otherwise be used as rental housing. What they're doing is generating tourism revenue. Are they taking anything away from existing hotel properties? Again, not at all. There are more hotel rooms in Seattle than ever before, more hotels under construction, in fact the entire Air BnB phenomenon is predicated on the insufficient supply of hotel space.

So here's a word to Councilman Burgess and gang: wrong tree.

There's a Benedictine church called San Fermo Maggiore in Verona, on the banks of the Adige, 75 miles west of Venice, been there for centuries. Remember that name.

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Meantime, a pair of wood-frame, carpenter-built cabins that had stood in the International District since the 1880s were saved from demolition in 1975 and moved to the newly created Ballard Avenue Landmark District. Originally serving as professional offices, they've now been reconfigured as a 50-seat Italian restaurant and renamed San Fermo (at 5341 Ballard Avenue NW). The owners, Jeff Ofelt, Tim Baker, Wade Weigel, and Scott Shapiro all have restaurant experience, and are putting it to good use, starting with the innovative design.

What a welcome change from the anonymous, steel & concrete industrial décor we've seen almost everywhere for the past couple of years. San Fermo has a distinctly retro, small-town feel, with tables along a broad side porch, wood floors and white-washed walls inside, dishes and staples on exposed shelves.

At lunch, the choices are written on a window next to the kitchen: a couple of pastas, a couple of salads, a chicken dish. A glass of wine (excellent pinot grigio from northern Italy) costs more than the maltagliati with osso buco rag├╣. And what a privilege, you think, to sit here in the warm spring air, surrounded by signs that the hostess, the cooks, the servers all want you to be happy.

Until now, if you wanted an authentic Italian country lunch, you had to go to Volterra, which has a delightful garden in front of an old house a block away (5411 Ballard Ave. NW). Portions are probably bigger, but so's the check.


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