A few months back, we were turned on to a new restaurant in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood that used Schoolhouse lighting. Homer, which opened in a rustic-yet-refined space last September, serves a wood-fired Mediterranean menu featuring fresh-baked flatbreads, beautiful produce, and soft serve you can take to go. The eatery is the labor of chef Logan Cox and interior designer Sara Knowles, a couple who moved from Washington DC to the Pacific Northwest in 2013 with a dream of channeling their respective crafts to open their own place.
That dream took about five years to come to fruition, but judging by the abundance of both nightly crowds and enthusiastic write-ups from the local food media, the wait was worth it. We reached out to the couple to talk about the journey that led them to all the new things they share today: a restaurant, a home, and a growing family.
What brought you to the Pacific Northwest from Washington DC? Did you come out here with a timeline for opening a restaurant or did that idea come along later?
Sara: "I'm from Alaska and had always anticipated returning back West to be near my family (my sister is now our neighbor!) and was lucky enough to fall in love with a man that shared that dream. Finding the right restaurant space took nearly two years but also afforded us the time to grow as a couple (and aspiring business partners) and make sure we were being thoughtful about creating a space that reflected us. We always knew creating our own venture was the master plan, but learned early on that controlling that timeline was a futile process."
How do the restaurant scenes compare between Seattle and DC?
Logan: "The restaurant scene in DC was a little more about opulence—the build-outs seem more expensive and grandiose, compared to Seattle. In recent years, in DC as well as other cities, there seems to be a move further away from fine dining. But I feel like that's always been the case in Seattle. There seems to be a more natural approach to the food and design here, which I can only assume is because of the culture of the people that live in Seattle (naturalists, explorers, hikers, kayakers, etc.) That's a large part of the reason we moved here."
Logan, you have quite a bit of experience in a fine dining context, correct? What made you trade the modernist techniques for a wood oven, shareable plates, and soft serve to go?
Logan: "When I was a young cook, I was very particular about the chefs I worked for. I wanted to work for the most respected chefs and I just assumed that automatically meant fine dining. Those restaurants are great, but none of my friends could go eat there. You're really preparing meals for a slim margin of the population. I always struggled with that. As I got older I came to the realization that cooking food for someone is about hospitality and not about me showing how many techniques I've learned throughout my career.
The restaurants I have always loved really had a sense of the community they were in. Opening my own spot, I wanted regulars, I wanted my friends to stop by and feel comfortable and I wanted our restaurant to be a fun and happy place to visit. I think having shareable plates is one of the best ways to promote that kind of atmosphere. You sit at a table at Homer and you literally are breaking bread with someone. Thinking of that makes me happy. Having soft serve also contributes that atmosphere. I mean when you see soft serve, you think of carnivals and childhood, right?!"
On your menu you write that you always prioritize sourcing from Washington farms. What makes that so important for your menu and restaurant?
Logan: "I'm not a locavore by any means but I do care about high quality products and using products that get me excited to cook. It just so happens that we have amazing farmers around Seattle that grow and raise incredible things! What they grow is the driving force behind the menu. It means I have less control over what’s happening and it forces us to flex our creative muscles a little more. We can't get too comfortable—that would make running a restaurant too easy!"
Talk about the design. What energy or atmosphere did you want to capture?
Sara: "When we started looking at potential spaces to rent, we prioritized older buildings with character and history. That requirement combined with a desire to be close to home meant waiting a bit longer for the perfect space. The building we ultimately landed on is a beautiful stand alone brick building that really set the tone for the work we did on the interior."
"All along, it was important to us to create an atmosphere that felt warm, cozy and inviting—not something people were intimidated by or felt was only appropriate for special occasions. Having said that, as a designer, I also wanted the space to feel special and for it to reflect our personalities as well as the menu. Having two wood burning fires really helps create and reinforce the cozy feel we were striving for, so in that sense the menu and the design intersected perfectly!"
How difficult was the renovation process to get the space to where it stands now?
Sara: "Not easy, though i'm not sure anyone would look back on any major remodel or renovation and say it was easy. There are certain quirks when doing a buildout in an older space that force you to pivot on the fly. Early on, we realized our timeline was strictly aspirational and of course relied heavily on the permitting gods to ensure there weren't any major delays. Ultimately, we ended up opening about five months later than originally anticipated which, while frustrating, came with its own silver lining: we really needed those five months to dial in all the of millions of details that are necessary to opening a restaurant smoothly. The things we've learned will make the next project (should there be one) a lot easier."
The ostrich wallpaper is amazing. Who made it? Do you use wallpaper in your interior design work often?
Sara: "It's made by a small outfit in the UK called Beware The Moon. I had admired that wallpaper when I saw it used in a project years ago, so I mentally stashed it away for future use. The black and white pattern is a great neutral backdrop and the scale is perfect for the large walls and high ceilings. I even considered putting it in our house, but feared that might begin to erode our small semblance of work-life balance! I use wallpaper in my residential design projects as often as possible (i.e. when clients love it as much as I do). I'm glad it's having such a comeback, which means so many great designs and styles to choose from."
Sara, you used to work as a vintage furniture buyer. Were you able to bring any vintage pieces into the space?
Sara: "Indeed! My experiences as a buyer/merchandiser in the vintage furniture world has definitely informed my overall design philosophy, and including vintage items in the Homer aesthetic was very important to me. I didn't want to over-do the “mix and match” look, so I tried to balance some consistency and clean lines with an assortment of older pieces, including a 10 foot antique pine table that sits front and center and is great for large parties. All of our flatware and dishes are vintage (thank goodness for Goodwill down the street). In our bathroom you'll find a mint green vintage wood burning oven which my sister discovered in her basement when she bought her home in Beacon Hill almost 10 years ago. It’s very appropriate for a wood burning restaurant."
Opening a new restaurant usually consumes a lot of a person’s time. What do you do to relax and unwind when you do get free time?
Sara: "It definitely helps that our commute is only two blocks. That has greatly increased our quality of life and given us a little more free time. We're pretty boring. A lot of dog adventures and nights in front of the fire at home. We love trying new restaurants, though more often than not end up at one of our favorite neighborhood spots, Bar del Corso, which is just down the block from Homer. Right now we're just trying to appreciate what little normalcy we have since we're expecting a little girl in July and know our lives will really look different once our first baby arrives. It's gonna be a busy year."
Photography by Belathée Photography