It's hard to really understand my affection for Zest, the drive thru. I've never been one to fall in love with fast food restaurants, having banned myself from McDonalds in 2004. Annual visits to Taco Bell, Dairy Queen, and Pizza Hut has taught me one thing: Fast food restaurants usually suck.
The corporate menus, the boring floor tiles, and a strange tendency to hire young under-educated personnel continues to baffle me. But people have to work somewhere first and realize working there is the worst idea possible.
We are lucky in Seattle to have two (two!) great small burger chains that not only use local meat, but also treat their employees pretty nice. We live in a great bubble, Seattlites. Kidd Valley and Dicks are what McDonalds and Wendy's and Burger King used to be, until they sold their souls to the devil. Smartly, Kidd Valley and Dick's remained within county limits, 12 restaurants between them. This is plenty.
I asked both Kidd Valley and Dick's why they haven't branched out nationally. Kidd Valley's marketing dept said, "we like to keep local ties with the Kidd Valley brand. There are always more opportunities here." This is what you want to hear from your local burger chain. As for any rivalry between the two? Kidd Valley calls it a "friendly competition". Dick's has yet to respond to my inquiries.
But where Kidd Valley and Dick's succeed in employee relations, public goodwill, and economic growth, they lose by not having enough character. To me, character is about having flaws, just big enough for some people to notice. That scar on that guy's face? Character. That tear in your shirt that still makes you want to keep it? Character. Kidd Valley and Dick's have great personalities, but lack some character. Their stores are always clean, well kept, and seem in good order. Zest, on the other hand, has plenty of character.
Zest is that poor friend you have that is also a good person. Kidd Valley and Dicks are the nice guys who finish first. There's not much wrong with our local burger choices. But I don't know the history of Zest, or even if it's a good place to work for, or who the owner even is. But it seems like it has an excellent amount of character. Maybe Zest wants to stay small, stay under the radar, and only have one location. It wouldn't be the only place to do that in King County.
Yes, the oyster sandwich is decent, but so is everything. The location is tops because you have to get out of your comfort zone just to get there. Waaaayyy down Rainier Ave, past the mostly banal Columbia City. It makes me feel a little more alive and connected to this city when I drive down Rainier Ave.
I don't know if I'm right in selecting Zest for inclusion in the Here in Seattle hall of fame (small letters), but I do know this: I don't know if I'm wrong yet either.
Whenever you go, bring cash.
Here is their Facebook page