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Island chefs to set up shop at Sound Food building
An unexpected partnership is about to breathe new life into struggling culinary landmark Sound Food, as the island’s well-attended soup club Meat & Noodle finds itself a permanent home.
Meat & Noodle’s Lauren Garaventa and her business partner Brandon D’Imperio have worked out what amounts to a gentlemen’s agreement with Sound Food’s current owner, Jeff Cunningham, whereby Garaventa and D’Imperio will manage and develop the property, and Cunningham has agreed to take it off the market.
“Everyone is here on a handshake,” said D’Imperio, a chef who moved to Vashon from Los Angeles just two months ago.
“This was perfect timing,” added Garaventa. “Meat & Noodle needed a permanent location that was no longer my house.”
Coming into the new
partnership, D’Imperio and Garaventa have both developed their own unique pop-up dining ventures, temporary restaurants that serve special, one-night-only meals at specified locations.
Garaventa, a former restaurant accountant and tour manager for traveling bands, was tired of traveling and had always been interested in food, she said, but didn’t want to become a line cook. So after taking some butchering classes, she moved to Vashon from Seattle in 2011 to apprentice as a butcher for La Boucherie, the farm-to-table operation of Sea Breeze Farm.
After La Boucherie stopped its regular dinner services last spring, Garaventa decided to strike out on her own, starting a pop-up soup club that focused on her favorite food: noodle soup, and specifically Asian noodle soups, made by hand and using locally grown ingredients whenever possible. This included the meat and stock, since Garaventa raises pigs, sheep, ducks and chickens herself.
Garaventa began the aptly named Meat & Noodle Soup Club — whose motto is “Raise Meat. Roll Noodles. Make Soup. Eat.” — and has been creating mouth-watering, visually stunning Asian soup dishes since May of last year. Garaventa’s noodle soups are influenced by several Asian styles, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Taiwanese and Singaporean.
“The soup club has gone very well,” she said, noting that seats have filled up quickly and the club now holds double seatings to accommodate more people.
“We’re always full, but there are usually some spaces left close to the date of a dinner,” she said.
Meat & Noodle has become known primarily through word of mouth — though it does have a Facebook page with almost 400 fans and a partnership with Seattle Distilling Company. The only way to attend a meal is to get on Garaventa’s email list.
D’Imperio, for his part, was born and raised in Los Angeles and is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who has honed his skills working at several notable L.A. restaurants.
Over time, his passion shifted from the kitchen to the land and the origins of the food he cooked. He eventually purchased a 3-acre farm just outside Los Angeles, where he raised livestock, maintained an heirloom garden, made pasta, baked bread and even brewed beer, all in support of his own farm-to-table dinner club venture.
When he moved and bought a farm on Vashon, D’Imperio knew he wanted to continue in this vein and while researching the local food scene he discovered Garaventa, who was ready to take her soup club to the next level.
That’s where Sound Food comes in.
D’Imperio contacted Jeff Cunningham, who along with Greg Stoffer has owned Sound Food since 2007, but has seen the formerly popular eatery struggle to regain its place on a changed island and in a changed economy. Cunningham put the property up for sale about eight months ago.
“There has been some interest in it, but no serious offers,” Cunningham said, noting that there have also been people interested in leasing the space, but he did not like any of their business plans.
Cunningham, a third-generation islander, is the grandson of Bill Cunningham, who owned the Vashon Tavern, and son of Don and Gert Cunningham, who built the landmark Spinnaker Restaurant. He said he likes Garaventa and D’Imperio’s vision to keep good food the focus of the venue.
“Restaurants and food have always been a part of my family in some way. It’s important to me to maintain that legacy,” he said.
Right now, the only definitive plan for Sound Food is that it will be the permanent home of the Meat & Noodle Soup Club, which will continue to hold dinners on Sunday evenings as soon as as the pair completes the permitting process, which Garaventa hopes will be in February. It will also be licensed as a commercial kitchen, and the space will still be available for private events. Garaventa will be the general manager and D’Imperio the executive chef.
Beyond that, both have ideas and plans for Sound Food, encompassing a broad range of possibilities. They have discussed everything from restaurant-style food service to teaching classes; running a bakery to providing butchering services; catering to potentially partnering with the schools; and of course, farm-to-table dinners, using nothing but local ingredients.
“There are so many possibilities; this is a fantastic multi-use space for good food,” D’Imperio said. “We want to make something really amazing out of what we have in that space and with all of Vashon’s resources.”
“I believe they can do this; I think it’s going to be fun,” he said. “I want to drive by and see lights on and action inside, and I’m willing to forego some income to see that happen.”
To be on the email list for the Meat & Noodle Soup Club, visit www.meatandnoodle.com and subscribe. Soup Club events take place on designated Sunday evenings and cost $30 per person, per evening to attend.