Friday, August 15, 2008

Zeitgeist: Seattle's Pioneer Square

7:39 AM. Distinct music on speakers : perfect indie pop for a morning cup of coffee. Average age: 43. Males! Woman in bike helmets and knee length shorts! Glasses! Local art on the wall - green, red and blue prints of people. Black and white photos! Brick walls. 30 - 40 foot ceilings. 50 + year old gentleman with ipod, beard, cup of coffee and black Google shirt just walked outside. Yogurt, pastries, Top Pot Donuts and espresso shots being pulled.

This is very much a "Seattle coffee shop" institution. Zeitgeist.

Perfect lighting, outdoor seating, 2000+ square feet, 3 bars against huge open windows and that loud, banjo and organ infested indie music blaring ever so softly out of the speakers: female singer: ohhhh, ohhh, ohhhhh......

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Best Drink Ever!

Honestly, this is one of the best drinks I've "discovered" in a long, long time. Now, there are some other great drinks out there: ice cold water, a bunch of ice cubes and fresh lemon squeezed in before and after. Talking Rain and other sparkling water beverages - good ole' ice cold Coke a' Cola. An ice cold beer.

These are all good, but at the Bite of Seattle this summer there was a booth giving away free samples of drink called Kagome. I tried. I was a convert, right away! I was 'that guy' hovering around the tent, dive bombing in, again and again to pick up yet another 'taste' from their mini cup samples. I was sure these bottles - 30 huge ozs - would be $5..$6....$7...$8...who knows these days. With the price of Kombucha at $3.00 for a 16 oz bottle, or Odwalla's going anywhere from $3.50 to $4.00 for 15.2 oz bottles, I figured high on Kagome - but no....they sell for about $3.89 retail, confirmed at the high end PCC markets in Seattle.

And the taste! Amazing. The consistency is a cross between Welch's Grape Juice and something...smoother, richer, more...substantial. Kagome is a cross between fruit and vegetable juice. Just amazing. The best deal going out there in the "drinks" market - healthy, cheap, quantity, great design of the bottle...this is a great product...

Mango, Ruby Pomegranate, Burgundy Berry (amazing), Purple Roots, Carrot, Vegetable and Carrot Ginger....

Check out their site:

Get them at any of the major grocery stores....

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Baguette Box - Seattle, WA - Fremont Location

I have always had high hopes for Baguette Box! I even remember the first time I heard about it. The owner of a great little healthy fast casual place downtown said “you have GOT to try Baguette Box when you get the chance”. She had just found out I was interested in perhaps starting a ‘concept’ of my own and suggested this as a great example of someone doing cool things with quick / fast food.

Great salmon sandwiches, “Drunken” chicken baguettes, great bread and baguettes provided by Le Panier, cool drinks such as the under served Cricket Green Tea Soda, and a cool all around atmosphere: simple red tables and red chairs, huge chalk board menus, nice people working, open kitchen, outdoor seating, cool independent and freely played, non corporate play list humming over the speakers, local artists on the wall. They have a huge coke machine serving Coke products which doesn’t seem to “vibe” with their story, but ok.

Anyway, they were up to something cool and had the opportunity to really grow that story via execution. I revisited Baguette Box after being gone for about 12 months. Things had changed. The group of 20 or so flies that hovered and greeted me from entrance to cash register was the first sign. The 10 or so black chairs stacked in the far right corner, taking up space in the stand up bar because “…there wasn’t room anywhere else” was a second tip that things weren’t going as well as they could. Mind you, it was 80 degrees and 3pm when I walked in – ample opportunity to set them up outside. There were old boxes for drinks in the back but front of the house facing. Everything seemed dingy, old, sticky and…not clean feeling. There were a few customers in there when I arrived - I believe one other customer came in while I waited about 11 minutes for my sandwich. But there was indication that this place is still popular, or has the potential to be at this location.

*(Old set up: No longer there)

(*New Set up...)

Eric the owner emphasizes great, local when possible and fresh ingredients. That is what he made Monsoon from and that is his emphasis with Baguette Box, with out the fuss. A nice, simple place where you can get great, fresh product. So the idea and mission is there - he just needs his right hand man / woman to take absolute steel stern charge in Fremont.

The chairs, now black with new wood paneled tables, used to be red. Somehow the old red ones had more zing, more cleanliness to them. I' m sure they made this move for space issues, but they could have kept the red tables - unique! The new tables may be more down to earth and "easy" on the diner.

I asked for my sandwich “for here” but they handed it to me “to go”. Which is big deal. A sign of going the extra step: "would you like us to cut this for you" - or just automatically cut them in half like Subway and Potbelly....

I called Eric the owner to see if he’d like to comment on these issues before I posted: he didn’t return my call. They are – it’s important to note – apparently just hiring and implementing a new manager at this location, but he/she wasn’t there. And it’s important to note – Eric the owner of Monsoon – has had his hands full transferring his business from Seattle to Bellevue with Monsoon’s impending closure on Capital Hill ( in 1 year ) and opening in Bellevue (this fall).

With all of that said: It doesn’t seem like there is passion at this great little place in Fremont. It’s tired after only a year or so being open. No one is tending the light at the end of the tunnel here, or so it seems.

If they did, they could do really, really great things. Maybe their Capital Hill location is doing better – this review is only for their 2nd of 2 locations: Fremont.

Food: My sandwich was OK. Not great! Good to OK. It looks better in these photos than it tasted but the point is made: these are special sandwiches with cool bread / baguettes and greens hanging over the edge. It definitely carried with it all the potential these great sandwiches can punch, but it just was not zinging with freshness. The chicken was not fresh and I could taste that. It was good – good enough. Would I drive 10 minutes again to eat one? Probably not! Would I get another one when passing by? I would – or more likely I’d try something new. But it definitely wasn’t calling for me to return. And with PCC now selling 50 pizzas a day, mostly by the $2.50 slice, there is just that much more competition in the near vicinity.

Suggestions: Cut the sandwich, when wrapped to go, in half - or at least ask. New manager with passion and a direct line to Eric - more involvement and "love" from management, a new emphasis on cleanliness, some one who will organize the store, an emphasis on product knowledge (weak when I aeked the two people working there about drinks, food, sourcing, etc).

(* Local Art...)

This place has great potential but someone with passion about their story needs to step in and execute.

I will keep coming back. I love this place - I want it to do well. I just hope someone who cares comes in and whips things into their potential shape - at that point - this place will be a special Seattle place....

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Sunday, July 27, 2008


Starbucks is really getting behind the Vivanno drink. In full disclosure, I'm not sure what the Vivanno is. I've asked partners: something to do with great and protein and healthy but good tasting too. It's a frappe, I believe. A 'shakey' type of drink. A smoothie. 16g of protein - whey protein. "A nourishing smoothie". I tried a was good enough - absolutely nothing wrongwith it. I didn't buy one and I'm not inclined to. I don't know why. Another smoothie frappe' thing at Starbucks. Hmm. Just not that exciting. I'm sure they are great. I'm also inclined to think they probably cost in the $4 dollar-ish range.

What caught me was the below ad in the Sunday New York Times online edition this morning.

"How great days are made"

Really? "Today is a new smoothie" Better, but still...

I wish they would quit bs'ing us. How great days are made? Come on Howard. Really? I get it - it's healthy/ier and...I get it. But really? Is it really how great days are made? "No - it's a figure of speech...we're trying to communicate that it's healthier and that it will make you feel better - without coming out and saying it like that, because of course we couldn't say that"

It's just bs.

This ironically was juxtaposed against the following ad by Chevy in the same New York Times edition - a juxtaposition which sheds light on the obviously growing nature of online advertising, communication and expression for big, small and medium companies: AUTHENTICITY! Connection. Being real.

"We share a planet - why not share a dialogue"

Ok. You click and arrive at the following statement:

"At General Motors we take our responsibility for the environment seriously. If that sounds disingenous coming from the world's largest producer of cars and trucks, well, maybe it's time to talk - in depth and frankly. That's what this is: the beginning of a dialogue between people who share a planet. Fact is, we need to talk. We want to talk."

"That's what this is - the beginning of a dialogue"

Obviousy the part I highlighted above is what strikes me as the most impactful statement of all. "Time to talk - in depth and frankly"

Now granted, a frappe' drink / smoothie and saving the planet via frank conversation - as frank as one can have over an internet connection - with the world's largest producer of cars are two different concepts all together, but the point is still the same: one company is still selling you - and at that, a pretty bs-ee type of claim "What great days are made of" - come on. "Great days" is a factor of fate, hard work, love, luck, diligence, honesty, timing, etc. Whatever happened to integrity in Starbuck's Mission Statement. Nothing against this drink - I just wish the company as a whole would be a bit more open and genuine with what they are saying, which is exemplified and alluded to in the Chevy ad. Chevy addresses the fact that yes - it may seem disingenous to come off as "caring" about the environment when we are the largest producer of cars and trucks on the planet, but they beat you to the punch. They own that. And they go on to say it's time we talk about that! Amazing. Very impressive.

And as if the readers of the New York Times online edition aren't both savvy enough and cynical to claims across the screen: What great days are made of! better click...a smoothie from Starbucks - great. This is what I've been looking for. An ingredient to make my days great.

Life's answer solved in a Starbucks frappe'

Authenticity. Branding. Integrity.

Especially today it's just too important to be open, real and authentic with people - espcially online. The BS meters are high, refined and preciscion sharp and those companies that don't take heed are not - in my opinion - doing their best to be great!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Local (Seattle) Loki Salmon V. Huge Industrial Bumblebee

Walking around Seattle's various farmers markets you can't help but notice the prevalence of Loki Salmon (pronounced "Low-Key"...): whether it's the Bellevue Farmer's Market on Thursday's, the Columbia City Farmer's Market's on Wednesday's or the University District Market on Saturday' well as the West Seattle, Lake City and Magnolia Farmer's Markets...Loki Salmon is there. Dylan is your man to see - knowledgeable, friendly, passionate and diligent...he's the perfect "rep" for a great local brand and for his family business that is Loki.

High end (higher end) canned salmon is something I had yet to experience. I was curious to see how it would hold up, both in price point, flavor and overall quality to the traditional store bought brands.

Bumblebee products have been good to me over the years - I grew up as a kid on their tuna fish sandwiches. I still love their products. Even though their below salmon shots don't look all that appealing, the taste and value are fare to really good. But as we become more conscious and aware of our food quality and origins - how it's caught, harvested, raised, etc, it becomes increasingly harder to opt for an easy or cheaper option and more necessary to make choices that support values of preservation and respect for our environment and I daresay, the animals and sentient beings that are the object of our consumption.

(Didn't mean to get on a soap box there...)

To really get the Loki story - and an understanding for "artisan" fish products and "process" that Loki proudly and diligently represents, read this:

The story is a great one, but here are the main points. The pictures below are an echo chamber and bass line to the words of Pete Knutson and his family business: it's just a better product!

Pete Knutson and Loki Salmon..."respect the water". They are almost alchemists in the process.

"You really have to respect the fish when they come out of the water, because they come out of the water perfectly."

"Over the years, he's seen giant fishing operations devastate salmon populations and cut deeply into a way of life. Profits have dwindled for many small fishermen as the large operations flood the market with inexpensive, often farmed fish. "There's some very cheap fish out there, and they make a superficially nice fish, but it's like a synthetic industrial product," treated with antibiotics and other questionable practices."

Long ago, Knutson spent seven years fishing on big boats, but didn't like it, because big business didn't bring the same concern for quality that a small fisherman, like an artisan, brings. Fish have to be treated properly and gently, he says.

"I've been working on the same stocks for 20 years, by the same beaches. I know my fish well," he says. "I can get the fish on ice much faster — in 45 minutes, while it takes many large-scale processors two or three days. Our fish typically are less than 48 hours old when they hit the dock in Ketchikan, and then it's just a few more hours by plane to Seattle."

Knutson considers it his duty to work hard for the environment. "I have extracted a lot of fish from the water, so I have an obligation to give something back to the fish," he says. "I've got this incredible responsibility to treat fish in a beautiful, sacred manner. And it makes me sick to see any kind of waste."

The proof is in the pictures below...

( Comparing Loki Salmon to Bumblbee Salmon - a huge industrial purveyor of salmon food products)

( Loki on the right - Bumblee Bee on the Left - Loki appears as whole pieces and much "cleaner"...)

Bumble Bee - chow, chopped, mangled....

And once again...Loki

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bannanas and Frappe' Drinks at Starbucks

I was at a Starbucks this morning. Lame service. Just not enthused. Kind of looked at my cup. Ok..I guess I'll fill it up. I was surrounded by bill boards and manusha for Vivanno, a fruit smoothie - a banana based smoothie.

Still no recycling. Zero wireless. Tired workers. This is either going to be an interesting change or a sad decline marred by stagnation.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Salad from Starbucks...just watch this.

This is a great video i.e entertaining and educational for the whole family....

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