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Terra Bite takes on Starbucks

Terrabiteopening_006 Terra Bite is a new coffee house (and non-profit organization) that recently opened in Kirkland with an interesting twist for a business model (more on this below).  Is this the beginning of the end for Starbucks?  OK, stay with me now as I try to explain... 

Like most coffee houses, Terra Bite offers espresso, blended drinks, baked goods, sandwiches, and desserts.  They also provide a cool setting where you can hang-out, play your favorite XBox/PS3 games on huge flat panel TVs(for free!), or just pop-in and pop-out with your hot drink in hand.  Can you play your favorite video game at Starbucks on a huge flat panel?  No!    Terrabiteopening_001

So what is so different about the business model that might have Starbucks on the run?  Well, Terra Bite is operating based on a "voluntary-payment" basis.  Confused yet?  Well I was when I first heard of the idea.  Basically they have no cash registers, no fancy way to swipe a debit card, no signs with pricing, and no tip jar either.  What you will find is an unassuming gray box, similar to a large square piggy bank, at the end of the counter.   After you order your triple tall nonfat latte, and grab a sandwich--it's up to you on how much you pay, when you pay, and even if you choose to pay.   I wonder if our resident homeless guy, Paul, has been to the Terra Bite yet? 

Sounds crazy, right?   I learned more after talking to the founders during their private grand opening party in late 2006.   The Terra Bite was opened/founded by Ervin Peretz and Susie Allsup.  Ervin (a Google developer in Kirkland, WA) hatched the idea while slightly intoxicated during a trip to Vietnam.  Ervin describes the the voluntary payment system as "a convenience measure for the mainstream: a regular patron can just drop in $20 once a week, or even pay on-line.  There are no punch-cards, or any other complexity; it's all based on trust.  For those in need, it is a source of free food that is healthier, more available, and (most importantly) more dignified than the alternatives."

Terrabiteopening_005 Ervin indicated they are looking at more locations for expansion.  Many at the grand opening party were skeptical to say the least.   Can it really work?  Why nonprofit?   Will they get enough traffic?  Will people really be honest?  I don't get it?  Why in downtown Kirkland?   All good questions.   I guess we will have to wait and see how the Terra Bites does in the coming months and hopefully years!   

BTW, it hasn't slowed down Starbucks just yet.  They just opened another new Starbucks in Starbucks_openingdowntown Kirkland (where the old Seattle Best/Reality Coffee site was).  Can Ervin take on Starbucks?  Only time will tell. 

So if you are by the corner of Kirkland Avenue and State Street please check out the Terra Bite--it doesn't have to cost you a thing!  Seriously though...good luck to Ervin and  Susie!  As usual, comments encouraged...Steve

Kirkland's resident Igloo

Igloo_004 "What the heck is that thing?" we all wonder as we drive down 85th St into Kirkland.  And that is exactly the point.  It's been strategically placed there to raise awareness and provoke questions.  Given the weather lately, I wouldn't be all that surprised if someone just built themselves an igloo.  But I was curious enough that I stopped to ask Don Kubley (below right) about his shiny-looking dome.

Igloo_005 It is an Emergency Habitat Module (EHM) designed and built by Intershelter Inc.  These shelters can be put together in less than 2 hours and provide 320 sf of living space.  They are made with structural fiberglass and fire resistant resins.  A safehouse, really, to protect you from the outside elements--even biological agents and bullets!  They can be used for military mobile support, emergency housing, a quarantine area and even an interum to permanent housing (hello tent city?!). 

I wonder how much these things cost.  Surly less than an ADU (accessory dwelling unit) and I think it's a fine spot to send your husband if he's in the doghouse.      ~Janis

West-Siders Warm up to Cafe Juanita

Tuscany1 Cafe Juanita is always a fave for us.  Chef Holly Smith has really put her cozy little Kirkland restaurant of delicious northern Italian cuisine on the map, receiving many many accolades and widespread recognition over the years.   Despite many Seattlites that claim they never cross the bridge, apparently they do.  To visit Cafe Juanita, of course!   

Guest blogger Kathrin Jackson tells us about her experience:

Coming from the west side, we were paranoid about Friday night traffic to Kirkland, and so allotted plenty of time..enough to get us there 45 mins ahead of schedule (whoops!).  We expected to be asked to be asked to find a nearby watering hole, but to our pleasant surprise, were immediately accommodated with a perfect, quiet corner table.

We first tackled the wine "list" (ie book)- not shockingly, heavy on the Italian reds (and heavy on the greenbacks;our budget limited our options, but there were still several from which to choose).  There were a few local favorites we could have chosen, but we're adventurous types and asked for a recommendation.  Being less familiar with Italian wines, we described the characteristics we enjoy.  While we didn't initially think our waitress's recommendation was exactly on the mark, after letting the wine breathe a bit and enjoying with our food, it was pretty good and nicely matched our meal.

We're the lingering types-nothing bugs me more than when the wait-staff appears every 10 minutes. Cafe Juanita was absolutely patient and respectful in this regard.  After sipping our wine and snacking on a basket full of crisp thin crackers, we ordered our appetizers (buttery savory prosciutto and a bright citrus heart of palm salad).  A few conversations and sips of wine later, we decided to splurge on a pre-entree item to share: the barbaresco risotto (simmered in red wine) was so smooth and flavorful- a unique twist and improvement upon the usual chicken-broth-and-white-wine variety.  We finally made our way to the entrees, which were no less impressive.  The venison and its sauce were sublime (and for me, sauce is one good litmus test for a restaurant).  My husband, lamb addict that he is, enjoyed every bite of the tender saddle of Oregon lamb with its semolina gnocchi.

A few hours over a slow, yummy meal and a bottle of red wine were the perfect antidote to the holiday hectic.  Cafe Juanita's price tag is on the meatier side (with a $60 bottle of wine, we spent about $180 without dessert).  But,if you're looking for an all-around great fine dining experience, we'd definitely recommend it.

Cafe Juanita is located at 9702 NE 120th Place.  Reservations are recommended: 425-823-1505.  Dinner menu is Tues-Sunday 5-10pm and they also have private rooms for parties.  info@cafejuanita.com

I did it!

Holidays2006_046 Great timing having this Polar Bear Plunge on New Year's Day.  Because it actually sounded funny after a couple of drinks the night before to see how many friends would be up for it.  You know what happens next.  In the morning you wonder, "Were they serious?  Are we really going to go jump in the lake?" Then you wait to see if the phone starts ringing.  It did.

Holidays2006_050 I had managed to get my dancing feet out of bed and the confetti out of my hair well enough to get into the gym by 10am.  (Sidenote: do not play squash when hungover).  During this brief hour is when friends started calling and leaving messages, "Oh, guess we're not going for the plunge, you're not there, ok, no go."  As if I'M going to chicken out!  After a few callbacks, I was able to rally two true-to-their-word friends (hooray to Danielle and Soner!). 

Holidays2006_051 What a fun event!  And so many people did it- little kids, elderly, you name it and they were there in bathing suits and smiles running for the frigid water.  Check out the pics.  It wasn't as bad as I expected. It was surprisingly refreshing, actually, and I'd highly recommend it after a late night of libations.  Part of the deal is that you've got to get your head completely wet - and when the 48 degree Holidays2006_058 water hit the top of my hair a sudden lighting bolt of heat zapped my whole body.  There was no wind, so getting out was ok even when it took me a few minutes to find my 3 1/2 year old towel holder.  Steve (who was standing in his fleece taking pictures) thinks we should make this an annual family tradition.  I'm up for it.  See you next year?  Happy 2007 from us to you, Kirkland.   ~Janis