The Seattle Food Establishment: Second Annual List

The 50 most powerful players in Seattle's food scene, plus one to watch.

10. Uwajimaya
Place on list last year: No. 12

Because: Ever since the Moriguchi family first launched its once tiny, now mighty Asian grocery enterprise, it’s been amassing a loyal fan base that showed its strength last year when it raised more than $40,000 for tsunami relief. The vast selection of fresh and pantry products at four stores (in the Chinatown–International District, Bellevue, Renton and Beaverton, Oregon) is illuminated by well-informed and helpful staff. Also, featured in two episodes of Top Chef, voted best grocery store in the I.D. by Seattle mag readers and recipient of the EnergySmart Grocer Award. New projects: Uwajimaya is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. Employees: 460;

9. Charlie Billow and Ray Bowen
COO and president, Charlie’s Produce
Place on the list last year: No. 5

Because: Chances are, the produce on your plate at almost any restaurant in the region comes via Charlie’s, the largest independently owned produce wholesaler on the West Coast. And now more than ever, that produce is local; even in dead winter, the company offered two dozen varieties of Washington grown apples. New projects: The growing Charlie’s-owned Farmers Own label, which represents 20 organic local farms of varying sizes. Employees: More than 1,000;

8. Ted Baseler
President and CEO, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
Winery est. 1934
Place on list last year: No. 36

Because: This pillar of the Washington wine industry has a reach that extends far beyond the picturesque chateau in Woodinville, with 14 brands in its prestigious portfolio (including Col Solare, Northstar and Columbia Crest) and flourishing global partnerships with Italy’s Antinori and the Dr. Loosen estate, one of the preeminent producers from Germany. Baseler amasses loads of frequent flyer miles supporting the company’s “string of pearls” and importing projects, while at the same time cheerleading for the entire state’s grape growers and winemakers. New projects: Building a new winery in Prosser this summer to support the unbridled success of its 14 Hands label. Employees: 800;

7. Howard Schultz
Starbucks CEO
Started working at Starbucks in 1982
Place on list last year: No. 2

Because: Not only has the coffee giant grown to more than 18,000 stores worldwide, in recent months the brand has expanded into India and Vietnam. While its effort to purchase Tully’s was foiled (see No. 51), three key acquisitions made this year—the juice company Evolution Fresh, Teavana tea shops and Bay Area bakery La Boulange—prove that the company continues to diversify its products and increase its market share beyond the coffee market. New projects: Starbucks plans to open 3,000 new stores and remodel thousands of others in the next five years. Employees: 200,000+;

6. PCC Natural Markets
Est.: 1953

Place on list last year: No. 10

Because: This community-minded local co-op—which donates more than 57,000 pounds and 1,200 volunteer hours to 10 partner food banks—has been laser-focused on local, organic ingredients way before it was trendy, ever evolving in its mission to create a better shopping experience in its nine stores located throughout the area. That includes the genius cooking classes at five of the PCC Natural Markets, with menus from around the world (Korea, Morocco, Latin America, India and much more), hands-on basics (sauces, pie making, canning, knife skills) and kids’ classes for ages 2–15. (Registration opens on April 2 for classes from May through July; kids’ cooking camps go through August.) New projects: Look for a new store in Green Lake in 2014, and another in Columbia City in 2015. Employees: 1,000;

5. Nathan Opper and Zak Melang
Owners, Matador restaurants, Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen, Ballard Annex Oyster House
2004, with Matador
Place on list last year: Not ranked

Because: The winning team behind the wildly popular Tex-Mex mini chain branched out in 2012, tapping into the seemingly insatiable hunger for Southern comfort food at its Kickin’ Boot in Old Ballard (bonus points for the beautiful rehab of a historic building) and Southland Whiskey Kitchen in Portland. New projects: Launching the Oyster House in the old Thaiku space, which will include tanks for live Dungeness crabs and lobsters. Employees: 449;

4. Mike McConnell
Restaurateur and owner, Caffé Vita and Via Tribunali
Opened first Caffé Vita in 1995
Place on list last year: No. 6

Because: As a partner in dozens of Seattle’s favorite restaurants—including The Wandering Goose, Neumos, Hitchcock Restaurant, Pike Street Fish Fry and Big Mario’s—he has helped local chefs fund their dream projects. Next step: Nationwide domination. Last year and early this year, McConnell opened Caffé Vitas in New York City and Los Angeles, and later this year he plans to open as many as five more, in NYC, LA and San Francisco. New projects: Along with the five new Caffé Vitas, McConnell has two local restaurant projects in the works: a trattoria and a fried chicken joint. Look for more on Seattle magazine’s Restaurant Insider blog. Employees: 250;,

3. Ethan Stowell
Chef/owner, Ethan Stowell Restaurants (Staple & Fancy, Ballard Pizza Co., Rione XIII, Tavolàta, How to Cook A Wolf, Anchovies & Olives, Lagana Foods)
2003, with Union
Place on list last year: No. 7

Because: Together with his wife and business partner, Angela, this kitchen magician continues to turn neglected spaces into inviting places and, as a chef consultant at Safeco Field, has made huge strides in feeding Mariners fans the best food in the major leagues, much of it local. The couple also launched a fundraising 5K in 2012 called Eat, Run, Hope, benefiting the Fetal Health Foundation. New projects: Bar Cotto debuted this spring next to Anchovies & Olives, and Stowell joined a national entrepreneurs’ group called EO to sharpen his skills away from the stove. Employees: 150;

2. Matthew Dillon
Chef/owner of Sitka & Spruce, Bar Ferd’nand, The Corson Building, Bar Sajor and London Plane
2006, with Sitka & Spruce
Place on list last year: No. 15

Because: With two projects opening this year in Pioneer Square (his first, Bar Sajor, debuted in late February), Dillon is doing more than opening restaurants; he’s helping to change the image of one of Seattle’s most iconic (and underappreciated) neighborhoods. Dillon is also pushing Seattle diners’ palates toward largely unexplored territory: Middle Eastern flatbreads, North African spices, and unusual vegetables. He’s feeding us and teaching us. New projects: London Plane, a mixed-use space to include a bakery, a florist and a wine bar, also opening in Pioneer Square this summer. Employees: 65 (up from 34 last year);

1. Tom Douglas
Restaurateur, author, chef
1989, with Dahlia Lounge
Place on list last year: No. 1

Because: Tom Douglas is simply unmatched in his influence on how, what and where Seattle dines. His early use of local, seasonal ingredients is now commonplace, and his early embrace of South Lake Union was a catalyst for other restaurateurs to open in the then-fledgling hood. In late spring, he’ll expand his empire by opening four new concepts in a multiuse space (more details below); and there’s talk of a food truck, too. New projects: A 10,000-square-foot, mixed-use space (not named at press time) inside the Via6 apartment complex downtown (Sixth Avenue and Lenora Street) will house a bakery, a restaurant, a coffee shop and a grocery, opening this spring/summer. Employees: 650;