Patty Pan Cooperative brings local foods, community to Shoreline

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Shoreline community member tries out a variety of dishes at Humble Feast, a prix fixe dinner event hosted monthly at the Patty Pan Cooperative, on November 6. This month’s items included locally sourced pilaf, lamb and chickpea stew, kale slaw, candied squash, and more. (Photo by Blake Peterson)

By Blake Peterson

A few years ago, farmers market vendor and chef Devra Gartenstein noticed a strange phenomenon in the food community.

“I’d get asked sometimes to be one of the chefs at upscale, local foods dinners,” she said. 
“I was at one of those dinners, and I was looking at the food, and it was all really expensive and fancy. 
"I thought: ‘This is not the idea of local food that I want to get out in the world.’”

For nearly two decades, Gartenstein has been combating this exact problem. In 1997, she started a farmers market concession that aimed to showcase different regional foods and flavors unique to the Pacific Northwest. That business, the Patty Pan Grill, has since made locally sourced meals enjoyable and inexpensive for the public – and has now become the oldest concession of its kind in the Seattle area.

Currently, it sells food at more than 15 Seattle-area markets during the summer and winter seasons, with menu items including hot, ready-to-eat tamales and quesadillas, as well as zesty tomatillo and smoky ancho handcrafted house salsas. Most meals are supplemented by fresh, locally grown vegetables that range from season to season but frequently include squash blossoms, spring onions, asparagus and brussels sprouts. You can wash down a meal with spicy ginger-mint iced tea or homemade lemonade depending on the time of year.

The secret to Patty Pan’s success?

“Perseverance … tenaciousness, and some insanity,” Gartenstein said.

Devra Gartenstein, the founder of Patty Pan, prepares food for the monthly Humble Feast dinner event on Nov. 6. Gartenstein has hosted Humble Feast events around the Seattle area for several years, but found a permanent home in Shoreline in 2014. (Photo by Blake Peterson)

Around 2013, Gartenstein knew she wanted to expand Patty Pan. There was both an urge to have an official space to do prep work for the concession and a desire to have a designated space to host community dinner events. 

“I realized that I’m not getting any younger,” she said. “I have a great group of people here … So I asked if they were interested in starting a cooperative.”

In 2014, Gartenstein attained a space in Shoreline’s Briarcrest neighborhood. Though it was affordable, what appealed to Gartenstein most was how welcoming the community sounded. Alongside information about the property, the realtor had posted a message from the neighborhood that encouraged local food vendors to buy the building.

Since Patty Pan opened its kitchen, itself run by a total of seven co-owners, the cooperative has become a major part of the Briarcrest community. In addition to housing every neighborhood association meeting, the business has also become renowned for its monthly Humble Feast community dinners.

Usually occurring on the first Monday of every month, Humble Feast is a prix fixe dinner event that highlights local ingredients primarily sourced from neighboring farmers. Though it’s only recently become a hit in the Briarcrest community, Humble Feast events have been happening as early as 2010, with Gartenstein and her fellow co-owners hosting them in various locations around the Seattle area.

“We rented a community center once or twice,” Gartenstein said. “We did it as a pop-up restaurant. Some of those were more successful than others.”

Shoreline community members dine and chat during this month’s Humble Feast dinner event. Most people who attend Humble Feast are from the neighborhood and use it as an avenue to catch up with old friends. (Photo by Blake Peterson)

So she, along with other members of the community, has been delighted to find that the monthly dinner program has become so successful in Shoreline.

“There’s been nothing like the way it’s been in Briarcrest,” Gartenstein said.

Neighborhood association member and long-time community leader Alice Keller appreciates the way Patty Pan, as well as Humble Feast, has had a favorable impact on the area.

“We didn’t have any gathering spot before,” she said.

 Foods are all locally sourced from area farms and food producers. (Photo by Blake Peterson)

Keller loves the array of local foods offered at Humble Feast, but another reason she keeps coming back every month has to do with the event’s welcoming atmosphere.

“You see people greeting each other as neighbors,” she said. “It’s a place Shoreline really needs.”

Bettelinn Brown, another community leader and association member, considers the Patty Pan space to be a hub. Having lived in, and served, the Briarcrest neighborhood for more than 30 years, the self-described activist has noticed that Humble Feast in particular has had a positive effect on the area.

“It’s brought us together,” she said. “No one comes in with their phones.”

A fervent supporter of the business, Brown eagerly said that she will soon be reserving a space in the neighboring elementary school to celebrate her 80th birthday — and that Patty Pan will be doing the catering.

The menu board for the Humble Feast tells where the food was produced.  (Photo by Blake Peterson)

The treasurer of the neighborhood association, Sarah Kaye, always looks forward to Humble Feast and attends regularly. Like Keller, she likes how sociable the event is.

“Everyone sits and chats,” Kaye said. While there is a core group of regulars, Kaye said that it’s not uncommon to befriend strangers.

Because Humble Feast has made such waves in Briarcrest, Gartenstein said she hopes other neighborhoods will do something similar.

But she still believes that the cooperative has room to grow. Within the next five years, Gartenstein primarily intends to achieve stability.

“We just want to be creating good jobs people stay with,” she said. “We want to keep making great food, and we want to keep exploring new avenues.”


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