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

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