Matt Bell and Ethan Stowell did their best “Dumb and Dumber” impersonation while seated on a scooter in front of their new car club and restaurant in Seattle’s SoDo district this week. But “smart and smarter” might be a more apt title for the tech vet and restaurateur after GeekWire got a look inside their new business venture.
The Shop, which opens Friday at 2233 6th Ave. S., is a members-only meeting, storage, and tinkering space for people who love cars and motorcycles. In the middle of the 36,500-square-foot warehouse sits Derby, the 16th restaurant from Stowell. Derby is open to the public and provides a unique view of the dozens of vintage and high-performance vehicles parked beyond its big windows.
The entire space provides a welcome aesthetic for gearheads who demand a bit more edge to their Americana than the local Johnny Rockets can provide. For Bell, a longtime tech executive who has turned the keys on previous startups, it’s the hangout he’s always wanted.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of startups where you work really hard and this is no different,” said Bell, who has worked at companies such as Modern Systems, SourceLabs, Azaleos and Skytap. “Being here ’til 3 a.m. all week is a very common theme. It’s more visual though — it’s more instant gratification — whereas in technology it’s theoretical and you’re building something that’s going to work. Here, you actually get to see it, whether it’s the cars or the building or the facility or the people coming in.”
The Shop has attracted just under 100 members so far and about 70 cars are parked in the space — including a Cadillac owned by Seattle hip-hop star Macklemore and another which showed up in the video for “White Walls.” The standard membership fee is $150 month, plus a $500 initiation fee and another $200 per car or $100 per motorcycle per month for secure, climate-controlled storage.
Perks include access to tools and equipment; in-house washing bays and detailing stations; access to skilled mechanics at reduced rates; and regularly scheduled events and classes. Bell said The Shop will be hosting “Cars and Coffee” every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon year round, rain or shine, and “Bikes and Brunch” every Sunday.
“This is going to be a destination facility, hopefully, for people to get out and ride or drive and come to every weekend,” Bell said.
Not surprisingly in modern-day Seattle, the early interest in memberships appears to be coming from folks who work in tech and have the money to acquire and play with the toys on display. But Bell has stressed previously that The Shop welcomes all car nuts, regardless of what you want to store and work on.
“Seattle being a tech hub, there’s a lot of successful young people that are able to enjoy this passion and hobby,” Bell said. “And so there’s a lot of tech executives here — and I don’t know if that’s because of my background and people I know in my circle, or it it’s just kind of the way Seattle’s run now.”
The mix of cars ranges from ultra-high-performance such as Ferraris and Porsches, to classic hot rods. There are some unique Japanese models and a few nice old trucks, too. Profession doesn’t seem to indicate any particular taste.
“There’s two guys I know that are members that work at Amazon,” Bell said. “One guy’s building a 1965 Shelby Cobra and the other guy is parking a brand new [Porsche] 911. Same age, same demographic, two totally different cars.”
Asked if he has a favorite among the cars currently parked in The Shop, Bell pointed to his own black 1968 Dodge Charger.
“Mine’s parked here, so it’d be like not calling my baby beautiful,” Bell said, laughing. “But there are a lot of other nice cars here as well.”
Right now The Shop employs about 12 people, including some front desk help, a shop manager, technicians and a detail person. A small garage run by Elliot Toler-Scott serves as a Porsche-lovers dream space as members can access the area where the mechanic works on the sports cars.
Inside a private members lounge there is a pool table and more TVs, as well as two conference rooms available as work or meeting spaces. VR Motion out of Portland has provided a Shop-branded professional driving simulator that works with an HTC Vive headset. There are also two Forza Motorsport set-ups from Turn 10, the racing game developer that is a division of Microsoft Studios.
Members can access a card room in the back of the space through a secret bookcase door. The speakeasy of sorts even offers the ability to order food via iPad which is then delivered through a pass-through in a cabinet located inside the room.
Much of the art — including numerous pieces from Seattle’s Duffyleg — and furniture has been carefully selected by Bell, with a rustic warehouse feel and plenty of metal and wood. Hanging behind the bar in Derby are unique, leather-wrapped motorcycle helmets and tanks by Seattle’s Matthew Larson.
Stowell, who has opened restaurants all over the city including Tavolàta, How to Cook a Wolf, Anchovies & Olives, Staple & Fancy Mercantile, Ballard Pizza Company and more, said he was excited to be part of a little different business model.
“It’s a new challenge, it’s interesting, Matt’s a super nice guy to work with, and it’s just kind of what we do,” Stowell said. “We like to be involved in the communities and involved in the neighborhoods where they’re located and just be part of Seattle. I grew up here and I still like it.”
The new menu at Derby is a thing of beauty: wings, bacon, burrata and Reuben's ? pic.twitter.com/dCGYFn2MOK
— Stowell Restaurants (@ESRseattle) August 11, 2017
He said the menu at Derby is meant to reflect the working-class area in which the business is located, and appeal to the sports fans who will no doubt find it a few blocks south of Safeco and CenturyLink fields. Upscale comfort food — snacks, wings, burgers — and a 4-hour happy hour with 15-20 items should attract a crowd, too, he hopes.
Seated atop his Vespa in front of the business, the chef didn’t admit to tinkering in the garage as much as he does in the kitchen.
“I’m a little bit of a scooter guy, but not so much,” Stowell said. “Maybe one day I’ll get into cars but, ya know … I mean they’re cool — I get it.”