SHAKING IT UP FOR THE LAST TMIE AT NELL'S – When Nell Thorn reopens Friday under new owner Ted Furst, Natalie, Susan Schanen's daughter, will not be there to mix drinks. Find her at the Seattle bar she is now tending. – Photo courtesy of Karen Summers
Nell Thorn is under new ownership. Seattle restaurateur Ted Furst and his wife Cathy Conner, with two partners, filed papers for the restaurant and property sale Monday. The restaurant, closed since Monday for staff training, reopens Friday.
The deal’s details were worked out by now former owners Casey and Susan Schanen and the new owners in March, but assigning Department of Natural Resources leases for the state-owned aquatic lands beneath the building took the entire spring, delaying the sale’s completion, Furst said Sunday. “It is a rare opportunity to build on a business like this” Furst said. “It’s successful. It earns a profit. It’s in the same groove (as Le Grand Bistro Américain, his Kirkland restaurant, in its tenth year) I am in.” Furst was contacted in March by a commercial realtor who told him that Nell Thorn was listed for sale. He reached out for partners, teaming with Albie Bjornberg as general manager and Chef James Donahue, to share ownership. Conner pointed out that’s a Norwegian and an Irishman, and Furst asked, with a smile, “What could go wrong?” Furst pledges continuity, generally, of staff, menu, décor and hours. He projects a Wednesday-Friday schedule for himself. “Casey is going to guide us through the transition,” Furstsaid, working fulltime for two weeks and then meeting with the owners weekly. Furst praised the Schanens, noting his “tremendous respect for what they have built here. We are honored to be carrying on in the same tradition.” Furst and Conner know La Conner and the Skagit Valley. They have had a home on Fir Island since 2008. Conner painted Nell Thorn’s wall murals when the restaurant relocated from the Washington Avenue Country Inn location five years ago. Amy and Katie Carson are longtime friends and Margy Lavelle, owner of the i.e. gallery in Edison, was Furst’s first wife. They brought their children to La Conner in the summers 35 years ago, he said. Conner, who trained as a chef in France’s Loire Valley, finds similarities in the Skagit Valley, though she is hesitant to make comparisons. She said they looked for land for four or five years and that Amy Carson and Lavelle each called with news of the same property for sale. That house now includes her studio and a big vegetable garden. Furst calls it “a completely different environment, with its big sky and fields and only an hour from Seattle.” Furst, who has made a reputation as well as a career in Seattle restaurants, ended with “It’s not an ego trip for me. This is a really good restaurant. Let’s take it where it wants to go.” Their work is to improve on what the Schanens have done, he said. Schanen again declined to comment on the sale or his or his wife’s future plans, saying the focus needs to be on the restaurant and the new owners.