Renton: A cafe, a saloon and cheesecakes… oh my!

Three restaurants: A cafe, a saloon and a cheesecakery. Three addresses: 915, 917 and 919 South Third Street. One business. Run by Joe Kennedy.

  • Monday, December 15, 2008 7:59pm
  • Life

Joe Kennedy

Three restaurants: A cafe, a saloon and a cheesecakery. Three addresses: 915, 917 and 919 South Third Street. One business. Run by Joe Kennedy.

“The whole concept is you’ll have dinner or lunch in the cafe, a drink in the bar, then dessert at Calico Cheesecakes,” Kennedy says.

The 40-year-old veteran chef and Fairwood resident cooks at all three spots, with help from assistants. The eateries opened in late October. Cafe Lure and The Tapestry Saloon are new to Renton. Calico Cheesecakes is not.

Kennedy opened Calico Cheesecakes in 2005 on Houser Way South, just behind his new location. After three years, his prospering restaurant and catering business outgrew the 624 square feet.

The South Third Street storefronts opened when the troubled Stiffy’s Soul Food Restaurant and Bar closed earlier this year. The building was a “disaster,” but after some cleaning Kennedy moved into the 4,200 square-foot building.

It took about a week to figure out how to use the new space. He wanted to add food to Calico’s menu, but, as he says, “I didn’t want to be a Cheesecake Factory Jr, known for cheesecake, but also with food.”

Inspiration struck one day while he was sitting across the street from his new property. He saw three restaurants: a cafe, a saloon and a cheesecakery.

“I always wanted my own pub, and I always wanted my own cafe, and I already had my own cheesecakes,” he says.

Each of the three eateries occupies a separate building, with a separate entrance and decor scheme. Calico Cheesecakes exudes elegance, Cafe Lure, an airy, comfort and Tapestry Saloon a rustic charm.

Each restaurant has a separate menu. Cafe Lure and Tapestry Saloon each offer a different variety of sandwiches and burgers, soups and entrees. Tapestry sells top-shelf liquor, and both joints serve breakfast on weekends. Calico Cheesecakes serves cheesecake, of course.

The three eateries are different, but also connected. No interior doors separate the buildings, and customers can order from any of the three menus while dining in any of the three restaurants.

As Kennedy intended, many customers drift from one restaurant to the next.

Judy Johnson came in on a recent day for lunch and stayed for cheesecake.

“I like the concept,” she said of Kennedy’s trio of restaurants.

Johnson wanted regular cheesecake, but settled for Jamaican rum banana.

“I’ve never made plain cheesecake,” Kennedy says. “I didn’t get into it for the plain part of it.”

He got into the cheesecake business for the artistry part. He doesn’t even like the dessert. But he likes garnishing and drizzling sweet sauces atop the finished cakes.

He started with 12 flavors and is up to about 28. Mango raspberry, vanilla bean brulee, wild berry swirl, tiramisu caramel apple, Kahlua almond fudge. He also makes savory and seasonal varieties. Brie hazelnut, olive tapenade and prosciutto, eggnog, pumpkin, fire-roasted caramel apple.

Vanilla bean brulee is the closest he has to plain.

“Usually I can talk people into getting that one,” he says.

Unique flavors set Kennedy’s cheesecakes apart. So does his baking method. Each cake is baked one at a time in a pan of water.

He developed that method 18 years ago in a Gig Harbor restaurant. Kennedy, then a sous chef, modified the recipe of the restaurant’s pastry chef.

As the message printed on Calico Cheesecakes’ display cases read: “We didn’t invent cheesecakes… we just perfected it…”

Kennedy’s cheesecakes were once sold at about 40 King County restaurants and grocery stores. Downtown Renton restaurants Armondo’s, Fin N Bone and Melrose Grill all sold his desserts.

Kennedy’s shut down his wholesale business for now, but plans to start up again next year, along with expanded catering.

For now he’s focusing on maintaining his cafe, saloon and cheesecakery.

Although Kennedy says he didn’t plan on opening his restaurants in the worst economy of his lifetime, he’s pleased with the trio’s business.

“We’re getting a great review from whoever opens the door,” he says.

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