For the latest installment of our "Tell Us Something Good" celebrity recommendation series, we talked with Edouardo Jordan—the James Beard Award-winning chef of JuneBaby, Salare, and Lucinda Grain Bar—about how he's been spending quarantine, some of his current favorite restaurants and media, and what it's been like owning a restaurant during COVID. Plus, get the scoop on The Soul of Seattle, a series of virtual fundraising events he's organizing throughout February (including live cooking demos, a panel discussion, local takeout meals, and an online dance party with Questlove) to celebrate Black History Month and to benefit local Black chefs and organizations that focus on youth of color.
What was the inspiration behind your Soul of Seattle event?
I was just looking to figure out how I can be more direct and impact communities and organizations that mean a lot to me. From there, I realized that the African-American community here in Seattle that runs businesses and restaurants, and the chefs of restaurants, we don’t ever get together as a community, and celebrate and break bread, or go out to dinner together. And so the Soul of Seattle was essentially an opportunity for all of us to be in one place, celebrate, have a good time, and bring some awareness to the community.
It was an amazing event last year. We raised a lot of money to support the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and the Rainier Scholars. We were looking forward to going into our second year of that format and then pandemic kicked in. So, we had to change a lot.
Were there any challenges in adapting it into a virtual event this year?
Trying to determine if we could do this event this year was part of the challenge, because I have three small restaurants in Ravenna, and we were impacted greatly by COVID, just like a lot of other restaurants in the city and across the country. As a business owner, my focus has been trying to make sure that my places survive and that I'm in a position that we can get through this pandemic and still be here when it's all said and done, so just trying to navigate that first hurdle was a lot.
And second, we realized that this pandemic wasn't going to go anywhere, so we weren't going to be able to gather the way we did last year. We had over 550 people at the event last year and we were looking at a larger location so that we could have a bigger event this year, but that all changed, so we knew that we were going to have to follow the virtual format that was so popular in 2020 with pretty much everything we did. We had to find a production company, we had to rewrite what Soul of Seattle looks like.
What are you most excited about for the event?
The amount of community support we've received from private, nonprofit organizations, from Amazon to BECU, to the Satterberg Foundation to Schultz Family Foundation, just to name a few of our major sponsors that have stepped in, without a question. It speaks volumes because if we would have stepped into planning for this event with no support, we would have given up. But we've gotten so much financial support to make this happen. The production crew itself is nearly $100k just to pull off, so there's no way that I'm going to personally afford to do this, but the greater community knew that this event had to survive, so a big thank you to the sponsors.
What I'm super excited about is that the event gets to live on and that we get to share our story with folks beyond Seattle because now that we're in a virtual format, anyone anywhere can actually view and participate and be a part and learn about the Soul of Seattle, and the amazing chefs and establishments that make Seattle so unique and so amazing. People in New York can watch, people in Houston, Texas can watch, people in Florida can watch, and people in Seattle can watch also. I’m so excited about the reach that we have now.
What has your experience been like as a restaurant owner during this time?
On a personal standpoint, my businesses have seen nearly a 65% drop in revenue from the year prior, and I had to lay off a lot of my employees since we don't have jobs for them. It’s kind of like losing a part of your family, because we worked so hard and so much with each other that we were around each other about 40-50% of any given day, and to not see those prized friends and employees there anymore is really hard. We had no control of this pandemic and it devastated our industry. It's still going to wreak havoc on many of us, and to lose [around] 60% of your revenue from an industry that already had razor-thin margins is back-breaking.
We've done everything we possibly can to survive 2020, from the number of pivots that we had to make to creating free community meals with the support of our community to pivoting to a takeout restaurant only—we have not opened our doors since March 16 or so. It's been super hard because that's not what a restaurant is about. It's about restoring people, it's about having people break bread together and recharge, so we miss that and it's super hard.
When I think about small businesses that I support, some of them, like Copal, are gone now, and it sucks. Mamnoon is still there in Capitol Hill, [I miss] sitting there and breaking bread with the owners Racha and Wassef, or walking through Melrose Market or Kedai Makan, all these little restaurants that I used to be able to frequent and hang out.
What are your favorite restaurants for takeout or outdoor dining right now?
I have a little kid, so we tend to focus on places that he really enjoys. We do a lot of pizza, like Tutta Bella. We go to Mioposto. This beautiful Thai restaurant we have, Ban Hua Sai, and a Mediterranean restaurant gyro place, Zaina, and Mojito, [which is] Cuban. Don Lucho's, the new Peruvian place here in my neighborhood. I've been doing a lot of neighborhood dining, and sadly, I haven't been able to get out to some of my friends' establishments, just because I've been a homebody for the most part, besides going to work. It’s all about my neighborhood in North Seattle.
What movies or TV shows that you've seen recently would you recommend?
I do a horrible job of remembering all the things that I watch, but Netflix has been my friend. I binge-watch something every now and then and don't [watch] a lot of shows. The Queen's Gambit was awesome on Netflix. I watched The Punisher and Queen of the South. Been watching movies that my son likes, like Real Steel, a robot-fighting movie, things of that nature. I've been 100% focused on work still and I'm trying to enjoy a certain work-life balance that the pandemic has brought along, because I do work a lot, but I'm not being demanded to be onsite as much as I was before.
What are the best books you've read in the last few months?
Right now I'm reading Black, White, and the Grey by Mashama Bailey and John O. Morisano. I just started Barack Obama's book, A Promised Land. I read David Chang's book, Eat a Peach—that was awesome. I'm from Florida, so I follow Rick Ross, a rapper in Florida, and I read his book Hurricanes. Other ones are investment books, like The Wealth Choice. Just learning.
What outdoor spots or activities have you enjoyed recently?
Again, I have a kid so we'll go out to parks like Discovery Park and Maple Leaf Park and hang out and ride bikes around the circle. We just get out a little bit.
How else have you stayed entertained in Seattle during COVID? Anything else you'd recommend?
I don’t know if I’ve been entertained in 2020. (laughs) As much as I'm not working as much as I did before, it's a different type of work. My work before was super physical, but now it's super logistic. I'm stuck behind a computer a lot, so I'm entertained with spreadsheets now and trying to figure out how to plan a virtual event and how to raise money. It's a different aspect of being busy that keeps me entertained now.
What are you most looking forward to doing in Seattle when COVID is over?
I'll answer that in two ways. One is from a business standpoint: I am looking forward to rethinking what the restaurant industry looks like and how I can be a part of moving it forward, and making it a more sustainable industry for those who are interested in still being part of this industry.
What I'm personally looking forward to is being able to interact with friends and family again and have those gathering moments. As human beings, we're very social for the most part. We need to interact. It releases anxiety, it decreases stress—unless you got stressful friends. I'm looking forward to breaking bread and having conversations in person, giving hugs again, fully checking in on people by inviting them over and having dinner together. I’m looking forward to when we can get back to that moment and to actually having people into my restaurants, which are an extension of my home, and having them rejoice and recharge.