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March 2, 2009 3:47 PM

Moxie sold: gets new "Signature"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Moxie, the lower Queen Anne bistro and bar, has been sold and will be reopen later this week as a Vietnamese restaurant. If that's news to you, you're not alone. Last week, Moxie newsletter subscribers received a letter from co-owners Lauri Carter and Peter Morrison, describing a change in ownership and concept, and inviting friends and fans to stop in over the weekend to meet the new owner and enjoy a champagne toast:

Lauri Carter and Peter Morrison (courtesy of Moxie)

Eater Joy Hamilton took them up on that invite. On Sunday, she and her boyfriend stopped in for one last brunch (she's still swooning over the chicken-fried steak with duck-fat-fried potatoes) and had such a great time they went back later in the evening for lamb sliders and the aforementioned bubbly. "It was packed," said Hamilton, a Moxie regular who sent an email saying how saddened she was about the news of the sale. But after paying her respects she sent a postscript, noting, "I was glad to see that they were able to transition in such a positive way."

That transition came faster than anyone imagined it would.

"We figured we'd list it and it would take six months or maybe a year to sell," Carter told me this morning. Instead, it took less than a month. "I found out last Monday, for real. No 30-day escrow -- it happened that fast." Looking back on the denouement of Moxie, she said "it's been an absolutely touching few days," with more than a few patrons moved to tears as they said their farewells.

"They're crying, but I'm not crying. We're thrilled!" That said, "I'll miss our hardworking staff" -- some of whom, she hopes, will stay on in Lower Queen Anne without her. While the economy played a part in their decision to sell to new owner Tony Ly, a lifestyle change drove the Moxie sale.

"It was a family decision," explains Morrison, who has an infant daughter and is looking forward to a more flexible schedule. "We always grew in sales and were doing our best, but on a personal note, I just need to make more money now. I can't `play restaurant' anymore." He expects to be "changing diapers for a while, and going back to sales in the seafood industry" -- the job he held before opening Moxie in 2005.

"The two of them are over-the-moon about that baby," adds Carter. And once her pal and his wife became parents, "for us to have kidded ourselves that things wouldn't have changed, that we could have a restaurant `baby' and Pete could take care of an actual baby? That's when it became apparent we needed to go our separate ways."

Morrison plans to stay on at the restaurant for the next couple weeks, helping ease the transition and assisting Ly, whose business partners include his brother Cong Ly (taking Carter's place in the kitchen), and their friend Johnny Arthur (a familiar face from Pho Cyclo) who will act as general manager. The changeover may have been quick, agrees Ly, but he's been shopping for a restaurant venue for three months.

"We're changing the concept this week. Why waste time?" Ly said by phone today, apologizing for the sound of hammers as minor cosmetic surgery is already underway in Moxie's dining room. A new Vietnamese menu will be in place when he opens for lunch and dinner Friday (the bar will be open for business Tuesday, lunch and dinner will be served daily thereafter).

In a month, Moxie will also have a new name: The Signature. Pho -- the popular Vietnamese noodle soup -- will be among the restaurant's signatures dishes, Ly said, yet this won't be just another pho house a la Than Brothers and Pho Cyclo. Instead he likens the coming menu to something we might find at the casually upscale Vietnamese restaurant, Tamarind Tree. "The economy's down, there aren't a lot of Vietnamese restaurants in Queen Anne and our food" -- with prices ranging from $3 to $10 -- "will fit right in," Ly said.

That's what Carter and Morrison are hoping for their successors. With a good concept, low prices and a comfortable venue, "these guys are gonna have a good round" -- if they can stick it out over the next two years as the neighborhood continues its metamorphosis, Morrison said. "It can only turn around and go up," he notes, nodding to the 10-year-lease signed by the Storm at KeyArena, the development of the QFC parking lot into a new condo complex and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's move to the 'hood.

"I think they'll hit it out of the park," said Carter. "Thrilled" though she may be, the sale of her "baby" is also bittersweet. "It's like selling your first home. You hope you've sold it to someone who's going to maintain the yard!"

Regarding her future, after a physically and emotionally exhausting week, she said, "It's crazy. It's an amazing time. I have no plans. I'm unemployed." But she doesn't imagine she'll stay that way for long. Eventually she'll put together a business plan for her next venture. Something involving a small restaurant, open for lunch only. One where she can maintain a catering kitchen and a less hectic schedule.

"I miss working at the old Matt's," she said, recalling memories of time spent in the minuscule kitchen at the original Matt's in the Market. "I'd like to do something like that: find a place with 20-25 seats. My husband's a firefighter and he's thrilled with the idea of me working during the day. He's never had me home nights. His friends say, `Oh, your wife must make gourmet dinners!' and he says, 'Yeah, she makes them -- for other people!'"

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