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Creating an Empire

Meet Linda Derschang, a PNW Leader and Icon in the Restaurant Industry

Article by Caitlin Agnew

Photography by Ashley Genevieve

Originally published in Bellevue Lifestyle

“Stay curious and travel as much as possible. Surround yourself with the right people both personally and professionally.”

"It’s incredibly important that we have the same opportunities as men culturally, professionally, and educationally, since it wasn’t that long ago that regressive legislation kept us on the sidelines."

Restaurateur is considered a sexy title for anyone who owns a restaurant, but in reality, becoming a successful restaurateur is a hard-earned title and does not come easy.  Eighty percent of all new restaurants either close or change hands in the first three years. Add to these challenges that it’s a male-dominated industry, and it’s easy to see why Linda Derschang is considered a true pioneer in the restaurant industry and PNW. Her Midas touch started with her first bar in 1994, Linda’s Tavern, known for its music ties with '90s grunge-like Nirvana. Her empire has become the Derschang Group, which has launched 11 bars and restaurants. Aside from successful hot spots, the Desrchang Group is known for being passionate about community involvement, equality causes and supporting independent arts. Linda’s path is an example of fearlessly following one's bliss, with the right mix of staying tuned into culture, community and clients' needs.  Bellevue Lifestyle sat down with Linda at her newest restaurant, Queen City, to talk feminism, lessons learned and inspiration. 

How do you define feminism?

Feminism for me is defined as equality and equal opportunity for all. Since I was a teenager I’ve considered myself a feminist, and I’ve always cared about the issues that surround women’s lives and their experiences. It’s incredibly important that we have the same opportunities as men culturally, professionally and educationally, since it wasn’t that long ago that regressive legislation kept us on the sidelines.

Are there challenges with being a woman in the restaurant business?  

Definitely. Early on one of the biggest challenges was not knowing other women in the bar and restaurant industry. There were so few! I’m so grateful to now know so many smart and talented women involved in food and hospitality. It really helps to have a strong network in any industry, but it’s so key in male-dominated industries—but I suppose most industries are male-dominated, unfortunately. 

What advice do you have for women aspiring to be in the restaurant business?

Work in the industry for a while to know if you really love it. I can’t tell you how many people have a romantic view of a challenging industry. Get to know other women in the industry. 

Did you always know you wanted to build a restaurant empire?

No, not at all. I’ve never had a five-year plan or even a one-year plan. My career has just flowed and often surprised me with the directions it’s taken. There was no “grand plan” although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that path. Perhaps more structure and planning could have been beneficial!

What advice would you tell your younger self?

Stay curious and travel as much as possible. Surround yourself with the right people both personally and professionally.

Let's talk design. Do you concept the entire restaurant: interiors, food, location? 

Yes, I conceive the entire restaurant. I love coming up with concepts, pulling together a team and designing our spaces. My primary focus hasn’t changed tremendously over the years. I’m still very involved in the financial side of my company but less involved in operations. I spend more time working on marketing, branding and PR than I used to which I really enjoy.

Where do you find inspiration?

My main source of inspiration is travel. I also read a ton. I love magazines, especially interior design, food, and of course, fashion. I look at blogs, and I also go down the Instagram rabbit hole too.

When you travel and visit new restaurants, what do you look for/enjoy?

I really mix it up. I love to check out new places and old-school classics in any city. I also am more interested in casual places than fine dining overall, but I do love a multi-course amazing food experience from a [James] Beard Award-winning chef sometimes too.

What restaurant was the most fun for you to create and why?

I would have to say Queen City because it’s the most recent, but honestly, they’re all fun. One unique thing about Queen City was that it has so much history; it’s a real Seattle classic. Also, I had never taken over an existing business, and that’s quite different than creating something completely new. There’s a lot of responsibility to design in a way that considers the history and the past. We actually tried to envision the space with more of a 1930s feeling, which is reflected in the art, the lighting and the furniture. There are many people that have been coming in for decades that have told us that they love what we’ve done. That is incredibly satisfying.

What’s next?

I really don’t know. Again, there is no grand plan! I recently hosted a podcast and interviewed five different Seattleites for Visit Seattle. That was something that I had never considered doing, but I loved it and now I want to do a podcast of my own. I plan on spending more time in NYC this year and also Mexico City. I don’t really want to expand my company but instead focus on our culture, on staying relevant, and on how we as a company can do more to give back.