John Sundstrom On Why He's Moving Lark and His Ambitious New Project on Capitol Hill

By: 
Julien Perry
John Sundstrom finds new home for Lark
Sundstrom is moving Lark (top right) to the much larger Central Agency Building (bottom).

After more than a decade, chef John Sundstrom is back to opening restaurants, and he’s going big!

Not only is he moving his quaint little Capitol Hill restaurant Lark to bigger digs, he’s launching two new projects — all under the same roof.

Fortunately for the Capitol Hill contingent, he’s staying close to home, heading to the Central Agency Building next to IHOP at 952 E. Seneca St.

“This little zone has always been this little no man’s land,” says Sundstrom, during a chat at his current home on 12th Avenue.

“They’re going to leave some of the auto-row original paint. It’s cool, because it’s getting back to the history of the building, which is what we tried to do [at Lark] — get back to the era that it started with and tidy it up.”

The new Lark will be larger (50+ seats in the dining room and 22 in the bar) and feature many of the same menu items, although Sundstrom will throw in a few new things. The interior will also share a common thread with its original home — wood floors, exposed beams, and those signature flowing curtains and lofted ceilings. This new Lark will be open nightly for dinner, eventually rolling out brunch and lunch. Sundstrom says it’s “Lark, grown up.”

Sundstrom is going into this new venture with his Lark partners: his wife, JM Enos, and their friend and current general manager, Kelly Ronan.

Lark 2.0 will join two other businesses that will take over a combined 5,000-square-feet — a third of the entire building.

“The idea here is that we’re actually going to incorporate several ideas that I’ve had going through my head over the last several years.”

Bitter/Raw will be a raw bar/charcuterie bar with an extensive selection of amaro and aperitifs. It’ll be located on a grand mezzanine level with big vaulted ceilings perched above Lark, which will be situated on the main floor.

“The main floor will be a little more luxurious, but then the upstairs…certainly, we want to go beyond oysters. There’ll be shellfish platters and a crudo stations. So, we’ll have a chef up there doing sashimi type dishes with probably a little more of an international scope than we do here [at Lark]; a little more playful. And that’ll be more of a communal seating kind of level, much more of a hangout with tin tables and benches — a little more of a place that will stay open later.”

Slab Sandwich + Pie will be located off the main entrance to the building at 1201 10th Avenue, between Seneca and Union, and will be open weekdays from morning until early evening.

“The idea is very focused — a couple breakfast sandwiches, some really great lunch sandwiches, and it’ll probably be a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. kind of place, coffee and all that. And maybe a couple of cases for some deli items, but we’re not doing a full market or anything. Again, very focused. Maybe five or six items,” as well as juices and slices of slab pie.

Sundstrom compares this new project to the Kolstrand Building (Staple & Fancy, Walrus and the Carpenter, et al) and the Fremont Collective (Whale Wins, Joule) that both house multiple tenants. “Most likely there’ll be another restaurant or bar. I think people are poking around.”

As to why he’s just now opening a new place: “I feel like on the whole, as Seattle bounces back from the recession, I feel like there’s room for…everyone’s been going smaller and smaller and more stripped down, which is great, but I feel that movement is sort of played out in a sense.”

He tells me it’s becoming challenging trying to find a place to celebrate without breaking the bank. He mentions taking inspiration from places like The Hungry Cat in L.A. and Balthazar in Paris. “To me, there’s a classic element that fits really well and I think there’s an opportunity to do that really nicely, focused on the Northwest.” 

Sundstrom is hoping to open this ambitious new project this fall. As for the original Lark, it’s being turned into a private event space once the new incarnation is all settled into its new home.

“We’re not nervous yet, but we will be soon, I’m sure!”