Editor’s note: The following article was written by a student who was mentored by a News Tribune editor earlier this summer at the Seattle University Journalism Summer Workshop. Eight tables. Two cooks. Constantly changing menus. Bananas on trout with lime hollandaise and a side of bacon and sweet potatoes.
Welcome to Babblin’ Babs bistro, where the smell of spices permeate the air and the Beatles’ classic “Here Comes the Sun” plays on the soundtrack.
Visitors are likely to find chef-owner William Mueller wearing a chef’s cap of muddy colors, a black T-shirt and a worn pair of jeans. His two children noisily play on gymnastic mats in the adjacent formal dining room.
Babblin’ Babs has been an adventure for diners with brave palates since 2006. Mueller describes his bistro as a “place that makes old people feel hip and comfortable.”
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Mueller creates, cooks and plans all meals for Babblin’ Babs, with reinforcement from his wife, Shannon.
“I just run into something and try to figure out how to change it,” he says about his menu philosophy.
LEARNING TO COOK
“My mom used to put out a little stool and I would stir and mix and that’s when my passion began” Mueller remembers. “It’s an internal artistry. I don’t think you can be taught to do it,” he said.
Mueller began as a dishwasher for pizza parlors in Chicago. “I never wanted to open a restaurant” he said.
After leaving the glamorous dishwashing industry, Mueller earned his degree in business management at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Ill. Taking an unexpected turn, he entered culinary school and studied French culinary techniques at Dumas Pere L’ Ecole de la Cuisine Francaise.
Next stop: food designer for the Four Seasons hotel in Chicago. Planning all buffets and room layouts, Mueller worked about 80 hours a week.
In pursuit of “some stupid girl” Mueller moved to Seattle where he continued his culinary path (cooking stuck, the girl didn’t). His jobs ranged from butler for the Prince of Brunei during the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation conference to catering and sales manager at Holiday Inn in Issaquah.
Mueller married his wife, Shannon, in 2000.
The round-trip 100-mile commute to Issaquah was taxing for him and difficult for his wife and two children, Savannah and Seamus.
Thus, Dinner Solutions was born.
Dinner Solutions was a meals-ready company for busy families. Customers prepared take-home meals, with one-on-one help from Mueller. Customers took the meals home to reheat and serve later. Mueller produced 15 to 20 new recipes every month. However, cleaning up after messy customers added to the stress of parenthood and business.
The only thing worse than a mess is a mess … with kids.
Shannon Mueller recalled how Seamus would fall asleep in a corner of the business in the early days of Dinner Solutions. One hot summer day, Mueller even set up a small wading pool in the center of the dining room for her restless children, simply saying, “What are you going to do? (We’ve) got to get the food made.”
Coordinating day-care hours with the long cooking and business hours became too much.
Looking back on his transition to bistro owner, Mueller says “having a wife to support it (his restaurant)” was vital.
Shannon Mueller’s first thought when her husband presented the idea of a small bistro? “OK, let’s do it!”
EXPLORING ‘INTERNAL ARTISTRY’
Dinner Solutions was transformed into Babblin’ Babs Bistro, a place where the Muellers could give “the kids the time they deserve and the customers the time they deserve.”
Babblin’ Babs is open until 2 p.m Tuesdays-Sundays, giving them time with the family, but also time to focus on the restaurant. They also host private parties and occasional special weekend dinners by reservation only.
Never expect to eat anything twice, but do expect to find fresh, healthy ingredients. Mueller doesn’t use a fryer. All food is steamed, poached, baked or cured.
Babblin’ Bab’s menu changes constantly. Every morning, Mueller scans his ingredients, “going through the fridge, seeing what’s fresh” and “taking a handful of whatever and making something out of it.”
The “whatever” is not only inspired, it’s plentiful.
The Muellers try to buy most of their products locally. The coffee is from Valhalla, various herbs and berries are grown on the Calendula farm, and soda is purchased through Real Soda in Seattle.
Regular customer April Gereer indulges in Babblin’ Babs about three times a week to “get away, have a really nice lunch” and meet the “interesting people” who come in. “I feel nourished when I go there,” Gereer said.
Custom food, custom style. One that fits Mueller’s patrons and one that fits Mueller’s family.
“I like the family situation there – very ambitious, bright, wholesome people,” Gereer said.
That’s evident in their children. Little Savannah runs to the table, wearing a wide smile, reaching for her dad’s arm while grasping a piece of nibbled pepperoni pizza. Mueller smiles down at her, his wife sitting at the nearest table with a mirrored look of satisfaction.
“We came to the conclusion that we aren’t going to get rich from doing this” Shannon Mueller said. But “it’s a passion,” her husband said.
Haley Swanson is a senior at Issaquah High School and hopes to become either a journalist or novelist after college.