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July 30, 2008 12:05 AM

Marjorie is moving out -- and outward

Posted by Nancy Leson

After five years in business, Marjorie -- Donna Moodie's Belltown bistro and bar -- has lost its lease:

That's good news and bad news. "When I found out I had to move, I felt really devastated," Moodie says, recalling the day she learned the historic building that encompasses Marjorie was to be sold. "But then I looked around and saw it was a great opportunity, too":

Over the past year she's found the time and energy to put together a business plan that's allowed her to think big. Those plans call for relocation, with Marjorie rocking out through the summer and slated for a late September closure. "A lot of people who think big will think, `Get a 4000-square-foot Marjorie,'" Moodie says of her impending move. "But that's not the kind of growth I ever wanted to have."

Her dream space is in "a charming old building with soul and good bones" -- like the one she's vacating. She's been eyeing potential locations downtown and on Capitol Hill. "There's a sense that to be bigger, you have to make what you have bigger, rather than diversifying." And diversity, she says, will be the key to continued success. "We have people asking us to do catering, or coming in to pick up ready-made appetizers for a party." At Marjorie, "we don't have the infrastructure to satisfy that demand, but the demand is there."

The space she has in mind will include a much larger kitchen, an outdoor patio and an office larger than the closet-sized hole she now has. Ideally, it would adjoin another venue where she hopes to open an additional bar concept (think: Lark and its cocktail lounge-adjunct, Licorous). "The office I have now is pretty much a large closet with no windows, and I think to myself, `How can you be creative in a space like this?'"

Moodie has creativity in great supply. In 1993, she and her business partner (and then-husband) Marco Rulff opened the funky-chic Marco's Supperclub, later bringing their creative talents to Lush Life (home to the original Cafe Septieme and -- apres-breakup -- transformed into the colorful, sensual Marjorie). "Anyone creative can make a space look great," Moodie says. Even if that space is in a soulless new development -- of which there are plenty for the leasing. "For me, it's about personal aesthetics," she insists. "I have no desire to be in a newer development." But it's also about dollars and good sense.

Sure, she's got her eye on such prizes like the "charming old buildings" where Lark and Cafe Presse have become Capitol Hill success-stories, but she's not immune to the charms of Belltown, either -- despite the weekend's influx of bar-barians at Marjorie's iron gate:

As for downtown real estate, "There's a beautiful, interesting infiltration of people moving into the neighborhood, but it's harder for a small business to survive in this environment." Leasing new construction is expensive, Moodie says, and with older buildings the necessary seismic retrofits and additional permitting issues can slow things down. Those slow-downs cost big money (just ask Matt Janke, late of the much-delayed second coming of Matt's in the Market), and making matters worse, landlords of older buildings are often unwilling to pay for tenant improvements.

Looking back on the days when Marco's Supperclub and Lush Life were but a gleam in their owners' eye, she says it's harder to get a great lease, and these days it takes much longer to get your investment back. "My business was my personal investment," she says. "I sold my house to open my restaurant." In the next phase of her career, one she hopes to be sharing with several of her present key employees, she'll be reaching out to investors for help.

Tim Buckley did just that when he opened Buckley's on Queen Anne. And he'll be doing it again when he opens a second Buckley's in Belltown. One of those investors is Lyle Snyder, who bought the McGraw-Kittenger-Case building that houses Marjorie:

"Lyle owns a lot of property around town," says Buckley. "He's a hell of a nice guy -- and a great landlord." One who made Buckley an offer he couldn't refuse: "He said, if I lease the whole space, he'll buy the building." Buckley characterizes his other investors, Gary Kunis and T. Edgar, as "nice, sympathetic guys -- and patient, too, I might add." To which I might add that Moodie, whose track record is a solid one, should be so lucky.

With the lease signed, Buckley expects to be running a family-friendly 200-seat pub encompassing the original Marjorie, the former Blu Canary stationary shop and additional office spaces. "We love the neighborhood," he says. It's one he knows well as the former manager of the Belltown Pub on First Avenue, now doing business as Belltown Bistro.

As for an opening date of his second eponymous restaurant, "We're shooting for November," Buckley says. Then in his next breath he echoes Moodie, explaining, "But first we've got to see what's up with the city and the historic society. The building may need seismic retrofit, sprinkler systems, things that were unforeseen but the city requires." Snyder didn't anticipate those expensive time-consuming setbacks when he bought the place, he says, "and neither did I."

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