Was the first thing that came to mind when I sat down with Linda Derschang, local restaurateur, designer and overall rockstar. If you ask any well informed Seattleite for their favorite place to grab a drink, coffee, or great food with a positive vibe, you are almost certain to be referred to at least one of Linda’s hip, trendy local establishments. She owns 6 of them to be exact, all situated in pockets of the city where most of the area locals spend a good deal of their off time. Away from the cookie cutter type of big money retail and restaurant chains, the Capitol Hill and Ballard neighborhoods offer a fresh, independent walk of life where local artists and young socialites can come together for happy hour or late night eats.
While each location is slightly varied in terms of their design aesthetic and menu offerings, each contain a certain openness, and unpretentiousness about them.
- Oddfellows cafe Friendly, neighborhood cafe in a beautiful brick building with huge east facing windows. Featuring a vintage flair and philosophy aimed towards sustainable, environmentally friendly food, fixtures, materials and decor.
- Little Oddfellows Quiet hideaway tucked into the corner of the Elliot Bay Bookstore, a spot for local students, professionals and book aficionados to congregate.
- Linda’s Tavern Iconic dive bar with dim lighting, and a spectacular outdoor area when the weather calls for it. Linda’s first business venture.
- Smith Popular Capitol Hill pub with stiff drinks and mouth watering food.
- Tallulah’s With a heavy emphasis on fresh veggies and seasonal driven food, Tallulah’s is that perfect blend of mid-century and modern.
- King’s Hardware Popular watering hole in the Ballard neighborhood for happy hour. Beer, burgers, and late night, Instagram worthy adventures are among the things on the menu.
While each is unique on their own, the difference is in the details. The central question of uniqueness and creativity prodded me to want to find out from Linda herself, so I grabbed a cameraman and shared a coffee with her at Oddfellows cafe for a work project. As a creative myself, I'm always curious about how other creatives go about their process, and where they find their inspiration.
“Well, I travel a lot,” she laughs, covered in a very east coast inspired, dark trenchcoat that looks freshly purchased, yet distinctly vintage. “I try to immerse myself in different places for my inspiration.”
As I looked around the vast, open space of the Oddfellows interior, I can see possible influences from every place and every time period: from the hand written wine list chalkboard, to the black and white turn of the century murals hanging on the wall, to the mismatching vintage flatware and tea set. Her brand conveys something more than just good design.
Is that why your places look so different than the standard?
“What would you consider ‘standard’?”
Hmm, good question. I guess it’s a feeling? I think the difference is-when you step inside of your restaurants, you feel like you’re…somewhere else?
“Yes! When I open a new place, I’m really just trying to bring forth new ideas. I love Seattle, but if I’m opening a place here, I want to do things that haven’t been done or seen before. So I get my inspiration by traveling to other places.”
Right, so you get your inspiration by traveling to other cities and finding what works?
“But you wouldn’t be able to find something just like this here (in Seattle), because I never want to copy. I can be inspired by not only elements in different locations, but different businesses. Like Linda’s tavern for example, comes from my days in Colorado, just outside of Denver, where we used to ski and hang out at these little mountain bars. But there’s also elements from other cities in it. Basically, I blend ideas together in a way and create something of my own to make it feel fresh and new.”
Is that your goal then? To create a space that looks different?
“Well, I think the goal should always be to not just create something that looks good, but FEELS good. I want people to feel welcomed, and see my places as a place of belonging and community. Where everyone is welcome.”
I love that. And since we are a lighting company, I can’t help but ask about your own thoughts on lighting. Do you have a particular philosophy on lights?
“Well first of all, you should always aim on making people look good. Whether its design or lighting, you’re always trying to make people look their best. It’s easy to make mistakes too, when you miss spots in the room. Sometimes the light can be too harsh, not bright enough, or whatever.”
What’s your process for looking for and deciding on what lights to use?
“I’ll create a budget, as with any project. Then I have this high-low philosophy. I shop around for inexpensive, salvageable lights. Then I spend money on lights that add more pow. Like see those lights over there? (pointing to the large, bendable lamps draping down from the wall) those were vintage lights I found from a place in Georgetown (south of Seattle). I love lights that mix function with design. I try to spend a little on both. But overall, I like an eclectic mix of lights.”
Have you thought about branching out your business? Expanding here or outside of Seattle?
“Why does everyone want me to work more? (laughs) Honestly, I just want to enjoy myself for now, and spend more time at home or traveling. That doesn’t mean retirement, but opening a new business sounds exhausting. I currently have more than 200 employees (the Derschang group, which oversees and operates the 6 businesses), so I think there’s enough on my plate for now.”
At this point, I could sense that Linda was a little tired of talking, so I asked if she'd rather take some photos instead. She happily obliged, and we spent the next 20 minutes simply walking around the cafe and taking pictures.
Branding is all about personality. Linda has a well-established brand-and her brand conveys a feeling of creativity, warmth, and openness. A belief that people should care-about their food, their community, and other people. I would say she's done a pretty good job.