Operating a food bank is hard work. Luckily, our amazing Ballard Food Bank community helps us every step of the way to bring food and hope to our neighbors. One of the people who makes our work possible is Board Member Jen Doak.
Jen is a veteran of the wine and hospitality industries and she owns Brimmer & Heeltap, a fantastic local Ballard eatery. When she’s not busy running a restaurant, Jen gives Ballard Food Bank her precious time, financial support, amazing ideas, and infectious enthusiasm. We thought you’d enjoy meeting her.
How did you get involved with Ballard Food Bank?
I moved to Ballard 15 years ago, and I knew right away that I wanted to become more involved in my community. I was looking for a volunteer opportunity but I couldn’t make a huge time commitment because I had such a busy schedule. I found Ballard Food Bank and they were flexible – letting me drop in to stock shelves or do other things. They have such a welcoming team that makes people feel great no matter what the contribution.
Did volunteering at the Food Bank change you?
Absolutely. On my first volunteer shift, I saw my neighbor come in to get groceries. Seeing him made me realize that you truly never know who may need help. If I hadn’t seen him, I would have never thought he needed to shop at a food bank. It was a very humbling experience.
Volunteering with Ballard Food Bank has made me less judgmental, because you never know someone’s story or what they may be going through.
How did you become a Ballard Food Bank board member?
I started on the board a little over a year ago. Executive Director Jen Muzia, who is a great leader, reached out to me to become a member after Brimmer & Heeltap sponsored a few fundraising events and campaigns for the Food Bank.
What do you enjoy most about working with Ballard Food Bank?
The organization is so multifaceted; it goes way beyond a traditional food bank because it’s more than just food. We provide a mail program for people who need a place to receive and pick up their mail. We have a community resource hub and offer financial assistance to help people pay their rent and utilities. We have programs like Weekend Food for Kids so kids have healthy food on the weekend, not just when school is in session.
It’s incredible to me. People think of a food bank as a place to pick up groceries, but this is so much more. Everyone I’ve ever brought here is amazed at how much we do.
Let’s back up and talk about your restaurant career. Tell us about Brimmer & Heeltap. What makes it special?
The building itself is so special. It has always been a neighborhood destination. In the early 1900s, it was a general store, then a grocery store, and it was a French restaurant for nearly 30 years before it became Brimmer & Heeltap. It’s special for us to be in a location with such a rich Seattle history.
What made you decide to open a restaurant?
When I was getting my degree at Seattle University, I visited my advisor, ready to change my major again, he sat me down to offer some serious guidance. He told me that I should apply for internships, but only consider those that I would be willing to do for free – as a way of uncovering what I love to do. This advice has always stuck with me.
I got into hospitality through the wine industry and fell in love with it. At the time, there weren’t a lot of accessible wine bars in Seattle and so I fantasized about opening one. I found myself craving the direct connection with people I had when I worked at wineries. That’s partially what led me to open a restaurant.
What’s the best and the most challenging aspects of owning a restaurant?
The most fun, hands down, is the people you meet. You get to witness a lot of important life events when you own a restaurant – first dates, breakups, birthdays, anniversaries, marriage proposals, divorces, you name it. People forget how many things in life happen publicly.
But running a business is challenging. Restaurant profit margins can be very slim. It’s a lot of pressure. I often wish we could do more at Brimmer & Heeltap but as long as we keep making small steps forward, I know everything will work out.
We hear that Brimmer & Heeltap will be involved with the Food Bank’s Helpings for Hope event this month. What does this event mean to you?
This event is so fun and energizing. It’s hyper-local and shows the level of support that’s entrenched in this community. We expect the event to sell out again this year.
Brimmer & Heeltap is excited to support Helpings for Hope as one of the evening’s featured restaurants. We’ll be there with other area chefs serving up tasty menu items and helping raise money for such a worthy cause.
Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’ll be serving?
We have incredible yam-quinoa patties that we’re going to serve as sliders with chipotle aioli, house pickles, and arugula. Then we’ve created a unique and really delicious pasta dish. It’s a short pasta called gemelli that we’re serving with a morita mezcal cream sauce.
We hope lots of our neighbors will come out and join us!