Education, experience helps Mukilteo restaurant succeed

A conversation Kelsey Sturtevant, with one of the owners of Red Cork Bistro & Catering.

As a former restaurant owner, I have great respect for anyone willing to take the plunge into the restaurant business.

This industry can be brutal at times, with high failure rates, constant upward wage pressures, an oversupply of eateries, challenges differentiating your business, razor thin margins and the ups and downs of commodity food prices.

Into this world enters a new business: Red Cork Bistro & Catering. Red Cork is located on the speedway in Mukilteo and offers a “high-quality cuisine along with wine, spirits and beer.” The three owners have extensive experience in the restaurant biz and each brings something different to the table.

Does Red Cork have what it takes to succeed? The company is off to a good start with strong sales growth over its first year.

I got the sense from one of its owners, Kelsey Sturtevant, that the company is very clear on what type of enterprise they want to build. They are taking advantage of their previous restaurant, catering and customer service experience, have picked their business partners well and are savvy by combining additional hospitality education and their hard knocks experience.

Here are the highlights of my recent conversation with Sturtevant:

Tell me about your passion for being a restaurateur.

I began working in the restaurant industry at 15 years old and have worked at many different positions in the industry. I enjoy meeting new people every day and building relationships with guests. I love the connections that I get to create each day through food, beverage and conversation.

You are one of three owners of Red Cork Bistro & Catering. How do the three of you make decisions about operating your business?

Adrian Ramirez is the executive chef and oversees the day-to-day operations of the business. The three of us are involved in most aspects of the business as a team. When it comes to larger decisions, we work together to decide what is best for the company as a whole.

You decided to get your bachelor’s degree from Washington State University’s hospitality program a few years ago. What influenced that decision?

I have always been interested in WSU’s program. Right out of high school, I chose to attend Edmonds Community College, rather than travelling to Pullman. After completing my associate degree, I took some time off from school. I was looking at going back to school when I learned Everett Community College was offering WSU classes. When I discovered I could complete my hospitality degree, I applied immediately. The program allowed me to work full time while completing my classes online or in the evening.

What do you look for when you are hiring a new employee? How would you describe your company’s culture?

We recently celebrated one year in business, and in that year, the business has seen tremendous growth. When looking for new employees, we look for people who are versatile and willing to grow and learn with the company. Our focus is to grow the catering business, and with that, we need people who are willing to adapt to the changes and growth that we are seeing. We love being a part of our community and have built an environment that welcomes the community into the restaurant.

What has been your most important business lesson learned so far?

Each day is a new learning experience. Things are constantly changing and growing; it is important to be able to adapt to those changes. There are so many moving pieces within the business. Being in a business with other partners allows everyone to contribute in different ways, which helps keep the business running. This past year has allowed me to apply my education to real-world experience, while continuing to learn through new experiences in the business.

Pat Sisneros is the vice president of college services at Everett Community College and former small business owner. Thanks to the two editors of my columns, Katherine Schiffner and Babette Babich. Please send your comments to

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

The tower of Paine Field Airport stands in a fog bank forcing flights to be averted or cancelled in Everett, Washington on January 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
More 5G-related cancellations as Paine Field fog persists

The FAA has not cleared certain planes to land in low visibility in Everett due to nearby 5G cellular towers.

Funko mascots Freddy Funko roll past on a conveyor belt in the Pop! Factory of the company's new flagship store on Aug. 18, 2017.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Despite Arizona move, Everett leaders expect Funko HQ to stay

The toymaker is closing Everett warehouses. But a recent “HQ2” expansion has the city confident Funko will remain rooted here.

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 2019, file photo, Amazon packages move along a conveyor at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Ariz. Amazon’s pandemic boom isn’t showing signs of slowing down. The company said Thursday, April 29, 2021, that its first-quarter profit more than tripled from a year ago, fueled by the growth of online shopping. It also posted revenue of more than $100 billion, the second quarter in row that the company has passed that milestone. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
‘Sold by Amazon’ program ends following state investigation

Washington’s attorney general found the program was anticompetitive and violated antitrust laws.

Meat dishes color icons set. Steak, beef ribs, chicken legs, burger. Fast food. Butcher shop product. Restaurant, grill bar, steakhouse menu. Isolated vector illustrations
Best place to go for BBQ in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

2021 survey results from the State Broadband Survey for Snohomish County. (Washington State Department of Commerce)
$16M grant to speed up broadband to north Snohomish County

In Darrington and elsewhere, rural residents have struggled to work remotely during the pandemic. A new project aims to help.

FILE - In this March 31, 2017, file photo, Boeing employees stand near the new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner at the company's facility in South Carolina after conducting its first test flight at Charleston International Airport in North Charleston, S.C.  The International Association of Machinist says six of its earliest and most vocal members have been fired at Boeing’s South Carolina plant, months after some employees at the sprawling North Charleston campus voted to join the union.  The Machinists tell The Associated Press that half a dozen employees were terminated from the North Charleston production facilities earlier in 2018. (AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)
Boeing posts $4 billion loss tied to problems with 787 jet

Manufacturing problems with the Dreamliner will add $2 billion to the company’s production costs.

An Alaska Airlines Embraer 175 airplane bound for Portland, Ore., takes off Monday, March 4, 2019, at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The flight was the first flight on the inaugural day for commercial passenger flights from the airport. Alaska Airlines began scheduled flights Monday, and United Airlines will begin commercial flights on March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
5G-related airline cancellations arrive at Paine Field

One type of plane serving Everett is subject to restrictions due to feared cellular phone interference with navigation.

Funko warehouse in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Funko to close Everett warehouses, shift work to Arizona

The company headquarters are currently in downtown Everett, but distribution will move to a Phoenix suburb.

FILE - Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks to reporters, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, during a news conference in Seattle. In a 5-4 decision Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, the Washington Supreme Court upheld an $18 million campaign finance penalty against the Consumer Brands Association, formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Ferguson sued the group in 2013, alleging that it spent $11 million to oppose a ballot initiative without registering as a political committee or disclosing the source of the money. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington justices uphold $18M fine in GMO-labeling case

Big grocers funneled dark money into a campaign against genetically modified labels on food packaging.

Most Read