Jason Wilson Expands into the Eastside with The Lakehouse
From the moment Chef Jason Wilson first pitched The Lakehouse in a January 2015 presentation, he has been engulfed in a flurry of development details unmatched by either of his previous restaurant ventures, Crush or Miller’s Guild. Wilson won a James Beard Award based on his culinary innovation, but it takes more than creativity and cooking skills to achieve success as a restaurateur. Wilson’s ability to organize, connect, and adapt are key to his accomplishments as a restaurant owner.
“Every possible detail has been looked at, and I continue to ask pivotal ‘why and how’ questions to ensure authenticity,” says Wilson. “Opening this project has taken two years of working on design, operational flow and layout, building relationships with purveyors, craftsmen, artists, financiers, supporters — and, most important — new guests on the Eastside.”
He says that sometimes the process seems endless, but since he enjoys the work and has chosen to spend his life this way, there is no “woe is me” element.
“Being a chef, being a business owner, is inherent to me,” he says. “The hard work and long hours come with the territory, just like any entrepreneur, but it also brings new opportunities and discoveries that enrich my life and my family’s.”
When asked why the Eastside, and Bellevue in particular, is the right location for one of his restaurants, Wilson points to the trajectory of Bellevue’s recent growth, as well as its rich history as an agricultural hub. The Lakehouse concept stems from Bellevue’s former identity as a place where wealthy Seattleites built summer lake homes. The city has long been neglected by Seattle chefs, Wilson says, and he sees Bellevue as an opportunity to tell a very local story. The cuisine speaks of land that is defined by water and showcases hyperlocal produce.
“When I looked at the area, I saw a lot of great places to eat, but most of them represented someplace else, like Latin America, Europe, or Asia. As I looked closer, I saw an opportunity to work with something that was immediate, not even Northwest, but immediate to Bellevue. The story starts with the area’s history as a farming community that evolved into summer homes, a bedroom community, and finally a modern hub of technology. I wanted to build a lake house — a place to entertain in, a place of familiarity and comfort.”
Wilson’s career is defined by unconventional moves and risk-taking, from his modernist-style cuisine and tasting menus at Seattle’s now-shuttered Crush; his extensive work at Coffee Flour, where he and his team are literally writing the book on a new food product; to the massive 9-foot wood grill at Miller’s Guild in Seattle’s Hotel Max. He says his journey has been about pushing himself to be better and try new things.
One of those new things is a partnership with the W Bellevue hotel, where The Lakehouse handles food services for hotel guests as well as restaurant customers. “The W Bellevue aligns with me in terms of quality and genuine experiences. The partnership makes sense in so many ways,” Wilson says. “We share similar guest bases that can grow and complement each other.”
Juggling more than one restaurant at a time has its challenges. The concept of “work” as going to a specific place for a set period of time doesn’t apply to owners of more than one restaurant. Wilson’s approach starts with an “always very deep” priority list, working one problem at a time to find solutions before moving on to the next item.
“I’ve learned from leaders in my business, but mainly from leaders in other professional fields,” he says of his ability to flow and adapt. “I look at what we are doing today, see the potential in change, and adapt to it so we can further the process and make something that is current.”
A proponent of the “it takes a village” mentality, Wilson constantly engages his networks and teams — relationships he has meticulously cultivated to create a strong foundation. Together, they sustain partnerships with craftsmen, artists, farmers, growers, producers, fishermen, and foragers. But, perhaps most importantly, Wilson says he and his team nourish relationships with guests.
In addition to food, Wilson is passionate about architecture and design. He had his hand in nearly every detail, saying good design is crucial to how the guest uses a restaurant and enjoys the space, and how the teams execute the experience. For example, the living column (live plants growing up a support beam) offers the kitchen and bar herbs to utilize in food and drinks, while also being a thoughtful, natural addition to the design.
Ultimately, Wilson invites everyone on any side of the lake to feel welcome at The Lakehouse. He anticipates seeing regulars as well as appealing to the business crowd, saying he hopes The Lakehouse is an Eastside fixture — “a place the Eastside goes for all sorts of reasons, occasions, celebrations or just days ending in ‘y.’”