Big Chickie Restaurant Renovation in Hillman City – a Vision Backed by a Village

The effort to transform a vacant service station in Seattle’s Hillman City into a neighborhood restaurant is a collective one. Restaurateur, property owner, development fund, and the community (through a crowdfunding effort) are all involved – “all in” – to make the Big Chickie project happen.

As we wrote here a couple weeks ago, Big Chickie will be a quick service restaurant specializing in Peruvian BBQ chicken. The brainchild of Seattle restaurateur Matt Stubbs, the new restaurant will occupy a prominent lot at the corner of Rainier Avenue and Findlay Street.

The site is the former home of Rudy Hansen’s service station, which served the Hillman City community for over 40 years. To honor their dad’s work, Rudy’s kids decided to continue his legacy of service by revitalizing the parcel. They invested over the past decade in environmental clean up of the land, with City guidance, and then offered the site for lease – with the stipulation that their father’s original building be retained.

That’s when Matt entered the picture. With help from a loan by the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, Matt signed a lease and set to work executing his business plan. He retained the Portland-based firm, Architecture Building Culture, to design the restaurant renovation, and Hammer & Hand to build it.

With funding and construction plan in place, the business side of the Big Chickie project is set. But Matt’s effort has always been about community impact as well. A revitalized, neighborhood-serving business in the heart of Hillman City will help propel the area’s renaissance. And to amplify that effect on the neighborhood, Matt is also launching a crowdfunding campaign to fund major landscape improvements to the site – transforming a sea of asphalt into an urbane garden/gathering space.

Seattle Commercial Construction Big Chickie Restaurant


It’s one of those projects: a great vision, followed by a lot of dedication, hard work and talents from lots of people to make it happen.

We at Hammer & Hand have been proud to play a role in the effort. And in speaking with Hammer & Hand lead carpenter Eli Semke (my brother, by the by), the construction of the restaurant build-out has entailed its own dose of dedication and talent – something to be expected when retrofitting a modest commercial structure built in the 50s.

Because the building is considerably out-of-square, the first challenge for Eli and team was to make interior framing square inside the context of the existing cattywampus exterior framing. To accomplish this required a dual approach: in places we notched the new wood framing into the existing steel framing, in others we held the new framing off of the existing. The result is a happy return to 90-degree angles.

Big Chickie Construction by Seattle Builder Hammer & Hand

To accommodate the extensive plumbing that is part and parcel in restaurant construction, the team retrofitted the building’s existing slab to accommodate floor sinks as well as supply and waste lines for various restaurant systems. We cut out a large section of the old slab to allow the plumber to do his work, and then poured a new slab on top.

The project also involved some engineering adventures midstream, as once we opened up walls we discovered they didn’t entirely mesh with old drawings. To shore up the building structurally the crew fastened the existing roof and roof joists to new 2×10 framing members, both to bear the weight of new heavy equipment and to provide lateral stability. A painstaking but critical process.

But the team has relished any hurdles along the way. And the emotional pay back for the work has already begun.

“One guy who’s lived in Hillman City for 30 years stops by weekly and chats with me,” Eli said. “He’s really happy to see something happening with this property. The gas station has been sitting here vacant for over 20 years. We’ve had lots of really positive feedback from the community, which feels good.”

And more’s to come.

“Matt’s plans for planting are really nice,” Eli added. “It’s just a big asphalt lot now, so it can use it. The planting strips and landscaping will make a big impact.”

Want to support this “green” investment? Check out Big Chickie’s crowdfunding campaign here.

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