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Food fight? Hardly

Landmark restaurants welcome new additions to Tacoma food scene

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Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the rise of higher-end restaurants in Tacoma during the last few years would leave sour tastes in the mouths of the chefs at the City of Destiny\'s landmark eateries. That wisdom would be wrong.

"As a resident of Tacoma, I like to see new restaurants, whether they are upscale or not," CI Shenanigans regional manager Jeff Paradise said. "It’s great to have new dining and bar options available. In terms of the upscale restaurants, I think that new entries into the market have shown to be competition, but also serve as a reference point for our guests. An example of this is pricing. What guests may have previously perceived in the past as higher pricing at our restaurant pale in comparison to some of our new competitors. I believe that at the end of the day our consistency in presenting high-quality food and gracious hospitality speaks for our 24 year history."

While places like Pacific Grill, Sea Grill, Melting Pot and El Gaucho might have first taken customers from the destination restaurant on the waterfront, that didn\'t last long. Those customers are now returning and are much more educated about food, and are willing to try new things that they might not have been willing to do had there not been this rise of restaurants.

"The sudden upsurge in new restaurants shook some people up and invigorated the Tacoma dining scene," Paradise said. "I think that we are now starting to see who has staying power. I believe that the flash of some of the new establishments has worn off and only the best will stick around."

The new restaurants made CI Shenanigans better, he said, by forcing owners and chefs to rethink what they did and either step up their food game or step out. They stepped up.

"Our philosophy in this regard is that although our guest may compare our food and service with others, it is how they feel about the way we treat them that will ultimately determine whether they return or not," Paradise said. "I think time will take care of separating the best from the others. The dining scene doesn’t need any more restaurants, but rather a refinement of those that are in it for the long run."

CI Shenanigans chef Joel Mertens thinks a bit differently. He says the more destination restaurants the city has, the more customers there will be for everyone. Elevating food from just a meal to an experience brings more people out and makes eating an adventure.

"From the second these other places started opening up, I\'ve been excited," he said. "People are now more willing to try something new."

That adventurous spirit in food isn\'t just brought by the new restaurants but television shows such as "Iron Chef" and "Take Home Chef" that are creating an energy around experimenting with food that wasn\'t there a few years ago. Eating particulars like dietary restrictions, vegan or vegetarian or gluten-intolerance in diners further add to that. Customers with particular orders make chefs stretch their skills and experiment on the go.

"It actually allows us to have a little fun," he said. "I love that."


Stanley & Seafort\'s General Manager Scott Leffel agrees.

"Honesty, I am a big believer that it helps everything and everyone," he said. "With the increased competition, it makes the restaurants operate on a higher level. As the competition has increased, it has forced restaurants to improve operations. You need to be on top of what the guest is asking for. This is not always what is reported on in the news. Bottom line, get the best ingredients, prepare them in a way that is health-conscious, and make sure the guest enjoys what you put in front of them. We spend a lot of time interacting with our guests and finding out what they want."

Cliff House chef Chris Thieme has a bit of a different take on the whole scene since his restaurant isn\'t in downtown. He has seen the level of culinary sophistication jump in recent years because of those restaurants, but the Cliff House is far enough away from them to go head-to-head with them.

"There is that competition, but it is healthy," he said.

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