Janice Lawrence had a definite idea in mind when she decided to launch in Bellevue.
“I just love European cafés,” she says, “with coffee in the morning, moving into lunch, and a more formal dinner.”
With a background in construction management as well as in the restaurant industry, Lawrence, who grew up in Seattle and now lives in Sammamish, says she also thinks that as living spaces in Bellevue become more vertical, people need more spaces in walkable distance such as ViaVita to get out of their small living spaces and relax. She also brings the element of the owner-operator; on any given day she can be found personally hosting wine tastings or greeting customers.
To create the ambiance she so enjoys on travels to exotic locations such as the Amalfi Coast, Lawrence has combined French-, Italian-, and Spanish-style décor and cuisine in the bright, open space located in the Belcarra building at 1031 106th Ave NE.
Lawrence says that at first she wasn’t sure she needed a chef to open her eclectic venue, but during construction, she happened to meet French-trained Phillip Collins, and they just clicked. Later, Lawrence also connected with Ryan Witcher, a pastry chef, who makes all of the café’s delicious desserts, including French fruit tarts, macarons, and homemade Italian gelatos.
As a result, the menu has a decidedly French flair, including a special five course fixed price meal Lawrence has created to celebrate Bastille Day, an important French national holiday, Thursday July 14. Menu items include unique dishes, such as rabbit paté, and white asparagus salad with vinaigrette and duck egg. The restaurant also serves a Sunday brunch that recently was recognized by Open Table one of the best brunch spots in Bellevue and best “little gem,” Lawrence says.
The chef focuses on using fresh foods as local as possible, fresh herbs, and sauces that are not too heavy.
“Because of his background, I have to admit it’s raised my level of food knowledge,” Lawrence says.
Another important consideration for Lawrence is creating a space that women would enjoy visiting with friends.
“I was trying to think about what makes women want to go out, such as oversized tables and portions that aren’t too large,” she says. For sunny days, the café also has some outdoor seating.
Lawrence says that now that she’s been open for more than half a year, she’s really focused on growth, and she’s looking to increase the amount of catering and events the restaurant does. The staff is trained to help people pair dishes with wines for dinner, and Lawrence says she’s always open to helping people create a special event. The restaurant will soon be hosting a wedding and reception, for example, and has held events such as high tea and fashion shows. ViaVita soon will be catering the opening of a new fashion boutique for Madina Vadache, a studio set to open in the Elements Building.
Lawrence says she’s looking forward to the future, and says that while finding the niche is a work in progress for ViaVita, if she already had all the answers she would stop growing.
“For me, it’s a culmination. I got to help design and build, and pull together everything I think of as important to me,” she says, adding “and the fun is finding out if I’m in step with others.”