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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