When caterers Nadia D’Aoust and Mardi Ljubich re-opened Sound Food restaurant last year, it seemed as though the restaurant — an Island institution since 1974 — would be relegated to the status of part-timer, open to the community only for special events.
Since December, however, the women have opened their doors to the public several days a week, and the restaurant, once again, is hopping.
“It’s been fabulous,” said D’Aoust. “The community has embraced us. We have built regulars since the first day.”
The two women, first and foremost caterers, created a business model at Sound Food that is unusual for a restaurant but supports their bread-and-butter businesses.
D’Aoust, the proprietor of Three Olive Catering, oversees lunch and dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays, offering both a dine-in and take-out restaurant.
Her fluctuating menu features food from her catering business, including two of her favorites: herb-rubbed beef tenderloin with beef demi-glace and conquile de mare, which translates from the Italian to shells of the sea — shell pasta with sundried tomato Alfredo sauce with crab and shrimp.
Born in Quebec and of French descent, she serves food in what she calls a Euro-American style — a style not from books, she says, but from a knowledge of food and what goes well together.
Ljubich of Shefidgets Catering opens the restaurant for dinner on Mondays and for lunch and dinners Wednesdays.
Like D’Aoust, she serves food from her catering menu. And whenever possible, she features food from the Island, working closely with farmer Leda Langley — sometimes shopping right from the field.
Her menu is varied, she said, catering to people with a variety of tastes. Her signature hamburger is a Southern favorite, stuffed with roasted red peppers and cheese served on a Bob’s Bakery bun.
She likes to grill in warm weather, including Kalbi beef — Korean short ribs. And for the many Islanders following an anti-inflammatory nutrition program, she likes to offer at least one dish daily from the anti-inflammatory list, such as stuffed red pepper with quinoa and sautéed vegetables.
The restaurant is typically closed during the weekend, allowing the women to focus on catering, but they do host some regular special events of their own.
On First Friday gallery nights, Ljubich opens the restaurant from 6 to 9:30 p.m. and serves a pub menu and hosts live music.
Geordie’s Byre recently played there to a packed house, she said, with the little kids dancing the night away. She also hosts “The Art of Wine” tastings with Ron Irvine on first Fridays.
On the third Thursday of each month, D’Aoust hosts wine dinners with wine from a variety of regions, sometimes local and sometimes from far afield.
Come May, the two women will open their new slate patio for dining and special events. They have added several new plants to the garden, including an herb garden for cooking; the wisteria will soon bloom.
“The garden is more beautiful than ever,” D’Aoust said.
At the end of May, they plan to offer monthly Mid-town Music Nights beginning at 8 p.m. with what Ljubich calls “not-so-appropriate dinner music.”
The restaurant will be open for lunch the first weekend in May — for the quilt show at Camp Burton and the first weekend of the spring art tour — the last weekend in June for garden tour and the first weekend in August for Vashon’s new farm tour. Boxed lunches will be available each of those weekends.
When each woman opens the restaurant, she usually works alone or with one assistant, meaning they fill a multitude of positions.
“We’re the janitors, prep cook, waitress, chef, cashier, owner, employee — the whole bit,” D’Aoust said.
“We’re definitely multitaskers,” Ljubich agreed.
The two women have a long history and worked together at Sound Food in the 1990s.
“We see faces from then,” D’Aoust said. “Coworkers, people we used to wait on.”
Customers are sometimes confused by their arrangement, Ljubich said, and some want the restaurant to be what it was in the old days, not a likelihood any time soon. But most people are pleased with what they find there.
“I feel really fortunate,” Ljubich said. “I feel like people want to come back to Sound Food. I feel like they want it to work out.”