Opening a new restaurant on Bainbridge Island is always risky, but it would seem foolhardy to launch a start-up these days.
Perhaps, but not if the owners have 25 years of restaurant experience on the island as do Marti Lawrence-Grant and her son, Will, who opened Penelope’s on March 29 in the Pavilion.
The restaurant’s opening coincides with the 25th anniversary of That’s A Some Pizza, the venerable pizza and sandwich shop owned by the family on Winslow Way. The family also owns That’s A Some Italian Ristorante in Poulsbo and has owned and operated 10 restaurants in Kitsap County during the last 25 years.
Their experience tells them that a small restaurant that serves “casual, affordable Italian food” will thrive on an island that was missing an eatery that exclusively served Italian food. The Lawrence-Grants had an Italian restaurant on Madison Avenue for several years before closing it in the 1990s.
“We definitely think there is a need here for Italian food,” said Will, who grew up in the business and has worked as a chef and manager in several restaurant in Kitsap County and the East Coast. “We’ve started out well… just by word of mouth. People here like a good Italian restaurant. Ours is a family-style approach that people seem to like. We offer fresh food at a reasonable price. Nothing fancy, but good.”
“We just felt the time was right and Will is ready,” said Marti Lawrence-Grant. “It was hard to find the right spot, but we think we did.”
Will said there is an advantage to opening a restaurant from scratch right now because the cost of equipment is extremely low with many restaurants going out of business these days. Plus, they got a good lease at the Pavilion, he said.
“We found a ‘fire sale’ in Arizona, flew down, bought the equipment, rented a truck and drove it home,” he said. “We did it on a shoestring budget but we still were able to buy quality equipment. We bought a $30,000 Wood Stone pizza oven for $5,000.”
The new restaurant also features a custom-made interior, with a handmade bar and booths.
“We did most of the work ourselves, along with my friend Bill Lounsberry, who did the woodwork,” he said.
The furnishings and the burgundy-red walls are classic Italian, but Will hopes Penelope’s will be known mostly for its tasty food.
“It’s simple, traditional Italian food with homemade sauces and salad dressings,” he said. “Everything will be made fresh every day. And the pizza will be a thin-crust Italian – different from what we serve at That’s A Some Pizza.”
The food also will be served in a family style: pasta dishes, for example, will be served individually or for more than one diner. Single servings start as low as $7 (for a dish of fettuccine alfredo) or as high as $17 for pasta for three.
Evening entrees include veal, chicken and eggplant dishes priced between $14 and $16.
“Yes, we’re concerned about the economy,” Will said, “So we’ve figured out how to keep the prices low and reasonable, but still offer quality food. People are willing to go out to eat, but they don’t want to spend much. Value is important to them and we think we’ve addressed that.”
The restaurant, which was named after Will’s wife, also offers wine to go since it has an off-premise license to sell bottles of wine at grocery-store prices.
Hungry for some pasta? Penelope’s is located on the first floor of the Pavilion and is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.