by Jeremiah Hinton
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The Kingfish Café may be one of the few places in Seattle where you can find proper Southern food, the kind that tastes like home, no matter where you’re from. It’s more than just the properly prepared, home-style taste; it’s the atmosphere, the feelings of ease and contented calm that greet you as you walk in.
As portraits of aunts, uncles and grandparents look serenely down from the walls, it’s clear that the Kingfish Café is a family affair, and I felt right at home when I sat down with Leslie Coaston during the brief lull between their lunch and dinner hours.
Coaston is one of the two twin sisters who imagined and planned the restaurant, continuing to bring life to it today. Ready laugh and willing to recount both the successes and the hardships of opening The Kingfish Café, Coaston made it a privilege to hear their story; the adventure that led to the birth of this oasis of southern charm in the Pacific Northwest is as delightful as the menu and a testament to the family that brought it into being.
As the children of cultural transplants, Coaston and her sister Laurel were blessed with an abundance of family who knew how to cook. “It was always a wonderful time, and seeing people you hadn’t seen in awhile, and the food was always amazing,” Coaston said. While the memory of childhood favorites was one of the motivations for the Coastons as they began considering opening a restaurant, the desire to share those favorites with others was the needed motivation. Coaston explained, “Not only did we want to eat the food that we remembered and loved growing up, we wanted to share it with others too, and it has been great.”
While many potential dreamers would have felt inhibited by a lack of formal training, the Coaston’s were undaunted. “We didn’t know what we were doing; we didn’t have any experience working in restaurants,” Coaston said. “Nobody said, ‘Oh you’ve never worked in a business before? Yeah, we’re going to give you a loan!’ So, that was difficult.” In spite of their initial lack of training, the sisters pressed forward, turning their inexperience into a beneficial attribute. Coaston continued, “In some ways it’s good, because when we didn’t know that what we were doing was supposed to be a mistake we went ahead and did it and it worked.”
That’s one aspect of the particular charm that you find at The Kingfish Café: it isn’t an artificial, manufactured ambiance. The décor is stylish, the music smooth and soulful, and the menu reflecting a myriad of southern influences that aren’t manicured or forced. This is quality borne of hard work.
Coaston described some of the challenges that faced her and her sister in the early days of the restaurant: “My sister and I were prepared for the work and the long hours, but wearing so many hats and doing so many things initially can be overwhelming.”
While the young restaurant’s beginnings required much of the sisters, their continual adaptation and refinement is reflected in the cool efficiency with which it runs today. Although it was in persevering through these early days that The Kingfish Café grew into the outpost of Southern comfort food that it has become today, it was also the result of creative due diligence before it ever opened.
“We went to different restaurants all along the East Coast. I was working as a flight attendant, and my sister would go with me and we’d sit down, meet the owners, have dinner and just talk, see what we liked and what things we thought we’d like to have here.” Coaston said.
While the menus bear the influence of many different regional cuisines’ best examples of home-grown comfort foods, the articulation of these favorites is The Kingfish Café’s own. The addition of head chef Kenyetta Carter to their restaurant family early on led to an expansive collaboration between the sisters’ vision and chef Carter’s expertise. Some signature dishes have been a part of the menu since opening, such as the “My Way or the Highway Buttermilk Fried Chicken,” while others reflect the growing Kingfish family. Of the many cutsy-named dishes that don’t lend themselves to precise classification, “Some are named after family, and some are just fun,” Coaston said. “We do some coastal, some inland, some more east – Virginia, Florida, Texas – the whole South. They’re all just satisfying, comforting, simple foods. Nothing is unnecessarily complicated.”
The cost of bringing a dream into reality wasn’t a small one for the Coastons, and it required a good deal of hard work. As Coaston considered the labor, foresight and occasional tears associated with bringing the food that she grew up loving to Capitol Hill, Coaston smiled, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
The Kingfish Cafe
602 19th Ave E