Jennifer Tam, Seattle's Restaurant Navigator

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Jennifer Tan.JPGThere are over 2,500 restaurants in Seattle, and, from her office on the 57th floor of the Municipal Tower, Jennifer Tam has her pulse--or at least the official perspective of Seattle's Office of Economic Development--on all of them.

How many restaurants in Seattle proper? Some 2,696 ithis year, according to the Washington Hospitality Association. Half of them "full serve." Average gross: about $1 million. Average staff, about a dozen.

Tam, whose official title is "Restaurant Advocate," grew up on the Oregon coast in a restaurant family who had immigrated from China. "We would close the restaurant, clean everything, and turn out the lights. Then we would eat." In the dark.

Her job for the past couple of years has been helping turn the lights back on, so that aspiring restaurant owners (as well as existing operators hoping to move or expand) don't get lost in the dark corridors of the urban bureaucracy. Tam is both interpreter and facilitator for the ambitious and the brave who want to throw themselves into the restaurant business, letting them know about leasing contracts, permitting (health, construction, remodeling), human resources requirements, and so on. A daunting task, all those permits.

Let's say you want to join the 600 existing food truck vendors in King County. For starters, you'll need:

  • A mobile food health permit, issued by King County
  • A street use permit to park in the public right-of-way'; they're issued by the Seattle Department of Transportation
  • A businesses license, right? That's issued by Seattle Finance & Administrative Services, Washington State Department of Revenue and other local jurisdictions depending on where mobile food vendors are operating
  • The approval of any trucks or trailers are issued by Washington State Labor and Industries (any food trucks or trailers need to be approved by L&I before they can apply for their health permit)
  • If a food truck is using propane or an open flame for food vending a permit from the Seattle Fire Marshall is also required

Restaurant success s a real mission for the City, with its own web page on the
OED site. And though there's a desk and phone for Tam at OED, she's usually found walking Seattle neighborhoods with clients. In the three years she's been on the job, Tam has worked on projects all over town.

The "Only in Seattle" initiative isn't hers, but restaurants are an integral part of Seattle neighborhood vitality, so she's part of the team that's helping restaurants in the International District, to name just one. Opening, closing, moving, relocating, expanding from mobile to brick & mortar, each situation (Super Six in Columbia City, Hurry Curry in South Lake Union) is different and requires different doors to open.

Before she moved to 700 Fifth Avenue she worked in the Rainier Valley as a business case manager, and before that, she spent time in India with village-level "micro-entrepreneurs."

Is she a bureaucrat herself? Yes, and no, she admits. Bureaucracy is all about process rather than innovation, but, she claims, "Process is nuanced in each city, or even in different municipal departments." From developing a business plan to scouting locations, from getting permits (a nightmare) to stocking the larder, Tam is a sort of midwife, or as she puts it, "the navigator."

"I enjoy bringing everyone to the table," she says. "Everybody loves food."

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on April 25, 2018 9:00 AM.

Haute Cuisine in Madison Valley was the previous entry in this blog.

Je m'appelle France. Et toi? is the next entry in this blog.

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