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Sujal Patel
Angel investor Sujal Patel

A new restaurant is coming to Seattle with a location near the heart of Amazon’s corporate campus and a concept aimed at attracting patrons looking for a fine dining experience that matches the city’s increasingly cosmopolitan feel.

Technology veterans Matt McIlwain and Sujal Patel — best known for starting and bankrolling cloud computing and networking companies — are sinking their teeth into Circadia, a new restaurant that’s opening later this summer at 624 Olive Way in the original El Gaucho location in downtown Seattle.

McIlwain and Patel spoke to GeekWire about what they look for when backing restaurants and what they hope Circadia — inspired by Hollywood and New York City eateries of the 1930s — can bring to Seattle’s restaurant scene.

Patel, the co-founder of Isilon Systems, said investing in restaurants is like investing in any other business.

There’s one big difference, though. It’s unlikely any single restaurant will ever sell for $2.25 billion — the jaw-dropping figure that EMC paid six years ago for Patel’s Isilon. Even so, Patel says whether you’re investing in a cloud storage startup or a new eatery, you need to make sure there’s a sensible business model and smart people around the table.

“Because restaurants are historically and statistically a fairly high-risk endeavor, I think that most people who get involved in restaurants also have a love of food and cuisine and experimenting,” said Patel, who now works alongside McIlwain at Madrona Venture Group. “For me, and I think for Matt as well, there’s certainly a foodie element to investing in restaurants.”

McIlwain and Patel both seem to have found a taste for investing in restaurants.

They are investors in Miller’s Guild, located in downtown Seattle’s Hotel Max, and both also have a stake in MOD Pizza, a chain with 110 locations across 16 states. MOD just this week raised an additional $32 million in funding to help fuel additional expansion.

Patel also backed Lecosho, located in the city’s Harbor Steps development.

“The criteria has always been around a style of food and ambience and service that I really connect with, that I think will be really successful in Seattle,” Patel said. “And working with successful restaurateurs who have a track record and are really capable of getting those businesses to profitability and cash flow. You can cook great food but turning that into a profitable business takes work just like in any other business.”

Circadia is owned by the husband-and-wife team of Jake Kosseff and Jeanie Inglis. A news release says the concept “joyfully combines old school glamour with quintessential Northwest sensibilities.” Executive chef Garrett Melkonian, a recent recipient of a James Beard nomination for his work at Mamnoon, will head up the kitchen.

McIlwain, a managing director at Madrona and early investor in Isilon, likes the talent that’s been assembled and thinks the time is right in Seattle. He said it’s possible to be true to the Pacific Northwest, while also bringing in some new ideas.

“Because of the diversity of people that are coming to town to be part of our community and the innovation economy, this is a really good time for this concept,” McIlwain said. “It’s an element of fine dining and the kind of place where you do get a little more dressed up — which is a little bit different than the typical Seattle mindset.”

McIlwain said it also helps that Circadia will literally be a block away from the new Amazon headquarters, “right in the middle of that whole Amazon ecosystem that starts at South Lake Union and works its way back into the middle of downtown.”

Matt McIlwain
Matt McIlwain.

And while McIlwain gives a nod to Seattle’s legendary Canlis as a premium fine-dining establishment — “there’s no replacing that incredible view down on Lake Union” — he said it’s nice to have other options.

And mentioning the traffic coming out of downtown and South Lake Union and getting through the “Mercer Mess,” McIlwain said, “I can see all kinds of reasons why I’d much rather walk over to Circadia and have dinner.”

Circadia’s menu will feature “elegant yet clever interpretations of classic dishes drawn from a wide cultural range” including King Pho with Lobster prepared tableside; Spot Prawns Thermidor with Crispy Head Crumbs; Inside Out Wagyu Ribeye Wellington; and plenty of caviar paired with great Champagnes.

The restaurant will feature four unique dining areas: the main dining room, with circular booths and window tables will seat up to 75 guests; a four-seat, reservation-only Chef’s Counter will overlook the action in the kitchen; the horseshoe-shaped bar and lounge will seat 60 guests; and the mezzanine will seat 25 guests.

It’s a lot to take in, especially when it’s just a concept, but Patel said he has gotten used to having an eye for restaurants and evaluating them.

“I kind of look at them like consumer businesses, except unlike consumer tech businesses they’re a little more simple,” Patel said, adding that’s it’s all about whether you like the food, service and location and whether top-notch people are involved.

“It’s much harder in the consumer tech world where you have to worry about how am I going to market this product, how am I going to distribute it, who are my 80 competitors going to be.”

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