Hometown woman is one of Seattle’s most influential

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Courtesy Photo. Renee Erickson
Seattle Magazine recently released its list of the most influential people in Seattle for 2012.

Among the movers and shakers were such noted individuals as Seattle basketball arena investor Chris Hansen (Person of the Year), King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Olympic boxer Queen Underwood, President and CEO of Pacific Science Center Bruce Seidl, Hal Griffith, co-owner of Pier 57 and the Seattle Great Wheel and Steve Singh, CEO of Concur Technologies.

Also recognized was chef and restaurateur extraordinaire Renee Erickson, who regards Woodinville as her hometown.

She spent her formative years here,attending Hollywood Hill Elementary, Leota Junior High and Woodinville High School.

“Woodinville was a great place to grow up,” comments Erickson, who now lives in Seattle. “It had a different feel to it back then because it was so sparsely developed. I remember the town area as being mostly a daffodil field with only a few stores. It’s changed a lot over the years to the point where I don’t recognize it anymore.”

Erickson describes herself as a good student who played soccer and softball at WHS, and whose passion was art.

She pursued her interest in college, eventually graduating from UW with a degree in fine arts.

It was during her university days that she first began working in the restaurant industry as a waitress at Boat Street Café.

“I hated it,” she says, “and so they moved me to the kitchen, which I discovered I really enjoyed.”

After graduation, Erickson spent much time roaming around Europe. She discovered that travel did wonderful things for her soul, as well as providing a window into so many different cultures.

“Europe also showed me that food matters,” explains Erickson. “It’s just not sustenance. It’s so much more and the process of selecting food, preparing and cooking it and eating it  —  each of these is an experience to savor and appreciate.”

Though she took a few cooking classes during her travels, the local woman considers herself to be a self-taught chef.

She learned by doing, by spending time in kitchens and by working with people she admired and respected.

At 25, she bought Boat Street Café from its original owner and previous boss, Susan Kaplan.

“I was pretty young,” admits Erickson, “and I wasn’t a particularly skilled chef, but I was determined and I was a quick learner.”

The lower Queen Anne establishment, which specializes in country or rustic French style cuisine, has garnered excellent reviews over the years and has a solid reputation in the Seattle restaurant scene.

In 2010, Erickson opened The Walrus and the Carpenter, an oyster bar in Ballard.

“I thought there was a need for a true oyster bar,” says Erickson. “It’s a very cozy, small space – a combination of a New England fish shack and a Parisian oyster bar. It’s done very well. The response has really been surprising.”

Recently, the local restaurateur added a third establishment to her portfolio — The Whale Wins, in Fremont.

“The food is French Normandy-inspired, but there’s definitely a British influence, too,” explains Erickson. “All of the food is cooked in a wood oven and the atmosphere is very cottage-like inside and very open.”

Owning and operating three restaurants is definitely more challenging than two and Erickson confesses it’s a bit of a juggling act that she’s trying to perfect.

But, she says her ability to be successful in handling everything is greatly dependent on her staff.

“I hire people who care about food like I do and that I personally want to be with,” she explains. “Getting good employees is a must — people who have the knowledge, who want to work hard, who believe in what I’m doing — that’s extremely important to me.”

As to the rewards for her efforts, Erickson points to being surrounded by a community of incredible people, eating great food, having a wonderful avenue for her creativity and giving her customers a complete dining experience they will remember.

“It’s not just about having good food,” she notes. “It’s the whole picture — a beautiful space, beautiful dishes, well-chosen wines, excellent service —  everything matters. And for me, it’s not about making lots of money or being the most influential. It’s about filling my life with beauty and sharing it with others.”

Up next for the famed chef and restaurateur, is the opening of Narwhal, a new food truck that Erickson says will be used primarily for catering special events.

“It’s going to be a traveling oyster bar,” she explains. “I’m hoping to get that going very soon. It was supposed to start operating much earlier, but then I opened The Whale Wins and had to put it on hold.”

She adds, “Life is very busy, but very full and satisfying for me. I’m very happy doing what I do.”

‘Exploring new terrain via human power’

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Andrew Fast
Andrew Fast
Andrew Fast claims there are no big secrets to being an endurance athlete.

The local man, an elite trail runner and triathlete with an oh, so apropos last name, says it’s basically about showing up and putting in the work.

Most importantly, he adds, “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Laugh often.”

Fast, who was born and bred in Woodinville, recently set the speed record on Haleakala, Maui’s highest peak and dormant volcano.

He ran the 18-mile trail that goes from sea level to 10,000 feet in 3 hours and 37 minutes. To give you an idea of how impressive this record is, previous attempts by others took double that amount of time.

Fast’s achievement and recount of the run is featured in the February issue of “Trail Runner Magazine.”

The local man’s interest in endurance sports was first ignited when he was a student at Seattle University.

Accustomed to waking early to train from his days of playing soccer, Fast headed to the rec center, where he met a group of lively older people waiting outside for the pool to open.

He learned they were triathletes and among them were some local legends, including Ironman Ed Wong.

“My background had been in surfing and rock climbing; two sports with a lot of ego,” explains Fast. “I was blown away by how welcoming the endurance community was, and before I knew it I was getting invited on bike rides, open water swims and trail runs.”

The Woodinville man took to trail running in a big way after he moved to Leavenworth, following a year where he lived and worked in refugee camps along the Thai/Burma border.

During his time in Southeast Asia, he dealt with his thoughts by riding a bicycle from the camps across the southern tier of Asia, pedaling into remote villages of Laos where tourists are never seen. When he returned to Washington, Fast decided that Leavenworth would be a good place to reside while he dealt with his culture shock. The small community and access to the outdoors was ideal for his pursuits.

“I could get to trails from my door, float the river, ski and get solitude within five minutes,” he says. “I stayed there for two years to train and write and earn money for my next trip and races.”

One of those adventures was in Chile, where Fast cycle-toured from Santiago down the length of Patagonia.

Now back in Woodinville, the local man is continuing to train and race, getting support from such companies as Powerbar, Orca, Nuun and Woodinville Bicycle.

He comments that his success is motivated by endorphins, discipline and community.

“To wake early and get fresh air in your lungs, endorphins flowing and new blood in your brain is a very good quality of life,” he comments. He adds, “Someone once told me ‘endurance is a blue-color sport, hard work pays off’ and I suppose that stuck with me because the discipline required to enjoy endurance sports creates a disciplined lifestyle. The determination, drive and engaging characteristics transfer well to anything you take on in life.”

As for community, Fast spends much time with others involved in the sport and is appreciative of the many mentors he has had over the years who shared their knowledge and served as an inspiration to him. With a number of wins under his belt and a skill-set that is well-honed, Fast feels he is in a position to give back to the community. Together with Woodinville Bicycle, he has started a triathlon team to provide an opportunity for local triathletes to learn from one another and train together.

Additionally, he serves as an announcer and volunteer at various events, as well as a mentor to others.

Fast strives to continue to improve his performance, averaging about 25 hours of training a week, which includes swimming, biking and running.

He enjoys competing, but emphasizes that the sport is more about fun and exploration for him.

“It’s exploring new terrain via human power,” he explains. “The element of exploration really set me up well for harder racing; control what you can control — don’t stress about things you can’t control — it’s inefficient.”

Bitten by the travel bug as a teen, courtesy of his parents, Fast doesn’t see borders, language barriers or political unrest when he looks at a map.

He simply sees terrain, and if the land is new and the culture is foreign, then it presents the ideal situation for him, combining two of his passions — human power and travel. In running Haleakala, he notes that Maui is one of the few places in the world where a person can go from the tropical waters of the Pacific, through the jungle and up to high country ranch land, into one of the most unique alpine environments in existence. In describing the volcano, he comments, “The belly of the crater is lifeless and moon-like in a beautiful way.”

Fast’s love of sport and pushing physical boundaries has created a deep sense of empathy for all ability levels, which drives his interest in the field of physical therapy.

He says, “From someone with a disability to an Olympic caliber athlete, as a therapist you have to be able to connect with them in order to problem solve. The problem solving element of being a PT is very exciting to me.”

The local man strongly feels that his story can serve as inspiration to others.

He notes that people tend to be creatures of habit, but he emphasizes that there’s a big, beautiful world out there, ripe for exploration, adding, “An expensive bike and brand new pair of shoes is not a prerequisite. All a person needs to do is get out the door and run or walk around a corner they haven’t gone around. The endorphins will start to flow and a sense of adventure will reawaken.”

Expansion planned for Adventura’s Woodinville facility

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Adventura Course 1 courtesy
Courtesy Photo Adventura’s programs, take place on an aerial adventure playground and involve navigating a challenge course that includes 50-foot cargo-net climbs, various cable crossings and a zipline.
Big plans are in the works for an expansion for Adventura, an adventure-based experiential company, at its site behind Redhook Brewery in Woodinville.

“We’ve had a massive surge in popularity and have encountered so much attention over the last three years that we have no choice but to expand the facility to keep up with demand,” says Scott Chreist, Adventura’s owner.

Chreist, a former Outward Bound Director and CEO of Team Builders, Inc., has a reputation for delivering innovative programs and designing unique workshops for a wide range of Fortune 500 companies around the world.

He began Adventura back in 2003 out of a profound desire to create opportunities for people to learn about themselves through play and adventure.

His aim was to give people ways to connect with one another through play while fostering growth on an individual level, as well as socially.

Adventura’s programs, which promote physical and mental development, take place on an aerial adventure playground and involve navigating a challenge course that includes 50-foot cargo-net climbs, various cable crossings and a zipline.

The activities can be divided into two categories: Play and Grow.

“Play events are for couples, families and friends who want to go do something fun and adventurous,” explains Chreist. “Grow programs are designed to actively develop and enhance the dynamics between people that work together or depend on one another.” He adds, “At the baseline, our programs are about providing people with an experience that enables them to clearly see the dynamics that exist between peers and to make choices about how to positively influence development moving forward.

“Effectiveness is squarely dependent upon individuals. If they want to grow and develop, the opportunity is there. As for our recreational event goals, the primary objective is to create laughter and bring people together to play. We do this extremely well.”

The Adventure Park places an emphasis on self-awareness and strengthening one’s belief in self.

The idea, according to Chreist is for people to experience something different from their typical environment that will give them the opportunity to look inside themselves.

It’s also a chance to connect with others who are going through the same situation.

In this way, participants help one another while helping themselves.

Many different companies and organizations have utilized Adventura’s programs for teambuilding purposes, from municipalities and small businesses to nonprofit organizations and large corporations.

In addition to the adventure course, participants can engage in special Teamplay events. Such experiences are designed to create positive energy within a group and build a social foundation which encourages people to interact, be creative, solve problems together and learn more about one another.

These activities also aid in fostering camaraderie and work toward strengthening peer relationships.

Chreist notes that Adventura’s programs are not about humiliation; nor are they about pushing people into activities and taking away choice.

He says, “When people feel a sense of control over what they are doing they frequently find a relevancy in the concepts being explored.

“Through dialog and reflection, people make critical connections between who they are, what they think and how they go about being. The Adventure Park is a journey, an adventure, a different path.”

In addition to its facility near Redhook in Woodinville, Adventura also runs custom programs and events all over the Puget Sound in locations such as Discovery Park, Marymoor and Lake Sammamish State Park, as well as a wide range of regional conference centers.

Responses to the company’s programs have been overwhelmingly positive.

Chreist says, “The people who come out to play with us with their co-workers aren’t shy about telling us what an amazing experience we provide. And for all the folks who come out to play with friends, we’re told daily how utterly awesome we are.”

As for the future of Adventura, Chreist notes that the company will continue to develop teaming activities and think of new ways “to bring a little adventure into being for company off-site events.”

Regarding the future of the facility at Redhook, he adds, “We are very excited about our plans to expand and we will have something super cool to announce soon.”

For more information about Adventura: (425) 868-7972 or

Yes, Virginia, free fitness classes for women do exist

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Courtesy Photo “Revive and Thrive”is a free dance fitness class program for women of all ages.
Getting fit, exercising more and feeling better about one’s body are common resolutions that people often make, especially around the New Year.

Unfortunately, the process to achieving these goals often involves a financial expenditure, whether it’s for a gym membership, class fees or new equipment, and for many folks, the outlay of needed cash can be problematic, especially in a challenging economy.

In an effort to make it easier on the wallet, while increasing accessibility to fitness, one longtime local trainer has opted to offer free fitness classes to women.

“I don’t think people should have to pay for better health and fitness,” says Cheryl Licata. “Some things in life should be free and especially something as important as your health.”

To this purpose, the Woodinville woman began “Revive and Thrive,” a free dance fitness class program for women of all ages.

She upped the ante by adding free childcare to attract mothers with young children.

“Getting enough exercise is hard enough for women, but when you add in the issue of finding a babysitter, it gets overwhelming,” comments Licata. “And, of course, you have to pay the sitter each time you want to get out and do something good for yourself.”

Licata started the classes a little over a year ago, offering them three mornings a week at Avondale Bible Church, across from the Woodinville Library.

Initially, the sessions were sparsely attended, but it didn’t take long for the word to spread and for the numbers to grow.

“I get about 25 to 40 women per class,” says Licata. “They’re all ages and come from various backgrounds and fitness levels. I choreograph the classes so everyone can do the steps and I show low and high intensity options to make it accessible to individual needs.”

The local woman describes “Revive and Thrive” as a “fun and powerfully effective one-hour total body workout.”

She adds, “Every class combines dance-based cardio with strength training and stretching to sculpt, tone and lengthen muscles for maximum fat burn. It’s a fusion of many forms of dance, resistance training, kickboxing and deep stretch. I use many styles of music including top 40 favorites, international, inspirational and jazz.”

Licata emphasizes that there’s no competition or intimidation in the classes, adding, “It’s just you getting to be you.”

She says that the only rule is to keep moving in whatever fashion you can.

“We giggle, we laugh, we have so much fun,” she adds. “I strive to establish a relaxed, light-hearted atmosphere where people feel comfortable and welcome, yet they know they’re going to get a great workout and sweat buckets in the process.”

Licata notes that the workouts also aid in relieving stress and help to reenergize the women, allowing them to leave feeling renewed and ready to take on the day.

She is proud of the changes that she has witnessed in a number of her participants. One woman lost 50 pounds over the course of a year; another, 45 in the last six months.

“Then I have three older women in their 70s who at the beginning had difficulty moving due to joint pain and now they are moving freely and their pain has basically disappeared,” mentions Licata.

“For others, it’s the gain in muscle and strength that happens.” She adds, “It’s very rewarding for me to help women feel better about themselves, but the real reason I do this is so I can dance and play, while being surrounded by loving and caring people. It’s pure joy for me!”

After the sessions, many of the participants often head across the hall to the coffee bar where they can order their favorite latte — for free — and spend time socializing together.

Participants can make donations if they wish, whether for classes, childcare or beverages, but it is entirely optional.

All money collected goes to the church, which in turn uses it to help pay the electricity and floor maintenance costs.

“It’s not about money,” emphasizes Licata.

“Ability to pay costly prices for classes and childcare is a non-issue here. Your health and well-being are first and foremost.”

All women are welcome, no need to register.

Wear comfortable clothing, cross-training or aerobic style shoes and bring water and a mat.

Weights and additional equipment are provided.

Seattle’s history is alive and well in MOHAI’s dazzling new digs

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Staff Photo/Deborah Stone, MOHAI is now located in the former Naval Reserve Armory Bu1ilding at South Lake Union.
Being forced out of your home and compelled to find new quarters can be an arduous challenge for any organization.

Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), however, embraced the mission with zeal, seeing it as an opportunity for reinvention. After being housed for the past 60 years in an old building near Montlake, where space was always an issue for the museum’s extensive collection of regional artifacts, MOHAI is now comfortably situated in the former Naval Reserve Armory Building at South Lake Union.

The facility, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and a Seattle City Landmark, has been returned to its Art Deco glory and upgraded to current Platinum LEED standards.

Original historic features were restored and new elements were incorporated with a project price tag of $60 million.

The building includes 50,000 square feet of interior space and 5,000 square feet of outdoor patio space, giving the museum 50 percent more public and exhibit areas than at its previous location.

With a collection of nearly four million artifacts and historic photographs, the additional space is a boon.

Museum staff expects about 100,000 people to visit the museum in the first year, as the new facility is significantly more accessible by both freeway and transit than the previous Montlake locale. Visitors will be quickly wowed upon entering the building as they stand in the dramatic atrium, where one of Boeing’s first planes — the B-1 seaplane, which made its maiden voyage over Lake Union in 1919 — hangs from the ceiling.

Joining it is Seattle’s first hydroplane, noted for shattering the world speed record on water in 1950.

And it’s hard not to notice another Seattle icon — the giant red “R” from the Rainier Brewing Company nearby, which lights up at the touch of a button.

Local installation artist John Grade’s “Sea to Sky” is also an eye-catcher.

The 65-foot-tall spire is made from wood taken from the deconstructed turn-of-the-century boat, the Wawona.

Step inside for a view of the waters of Lake Union below and a sliver of the sky above.

The atrium has four towers, which illuminate how history has shaped the culture of the Pacific Northwest by tracing Seattle’s journey “from wilderness to world city.”

One tower offers oral histories; another delves into the evolution of Boeing planes, while a third compares Seattle at the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo to its reinvention for the 1962 World’s Fair.

The fourth tower provides a view of Microsoft, gaming and the history of the high-tech industry.

Upstairs, visitors can stroll through a set of spaces that provide a series of snapshots into Seattle’s past beginning with the vibrant cultures of the Native Americans who made their home in this region and continuing with the early settlers who came on the Oregon Trail in search of a new life.

The rise of industry, railroads and statehood are detailed along with wartime and its effects on the city.

Further along, visitors are treated to displays on the growth of Seattle’s businesses, the city’s infrastructure and engineering marvels, development of its suburbs, shopping malls, sports teams, music scene and more.

Along with artifacts and historic photos, there is a variety of interactive media that encourages deeper exploration into different issues of interest.

Seattle’s maritime history is showcased on the fourth floor in the exhibit, “Waterways to the World.”

Created as artifact-driven “case studies” about Puget Sound’s connection to water, the exhibit uses images, models and artifacts to juxtapose historic activities with the modern ones visible on Lake Union through the gallery’s north-facing picture windows.

The Walker Gallery, a special exhibitions gallery for traveling shows, will initially host, “Celluloid Seattle: A City at the Movies,” an examination of Seattle’s relationship with film.

Curated by noted Seattle film critic Robert Horton, this show explores both the image of Seattle captured in films and how the notion of “going to the movies” has changed in the city over the years.

There is a Now and Then pictorial history of neighborhood theaters, a recreated set from the T.V. show “Frasier,” and a number of interactive activities including a green screen that places visitors into some of Seattle’s most iconic settings.

In the Linda and Ted Johnson Family Community Gallery, a space designed for sharing experimental and collaborative community exhibition projects, the first show is a collaboration with Arts Corp, Seattle’s largest youth arts organization.

On hand are pieces produced by Seattle students at Cleveland and West Seattle high schools, who were asked to bring MOHAI’s photographic archives to life through poetry and spoken word.

Still to open is the Center for Innovation, an exciting addition (due to be unveiled next fall) funded by a $10 million personal donation by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

The center will explore Seattle’s role as a place where innovation and entrepreneurship flourish through a permanent exhibit, classes, lectures and youth programming.

Another new feature of the museum is an on-site café, where diners can enjoy freshly made seasonal fare, while taking in the stunning views out to Lake Union and across the park to the Space Needle.

And for shoppers, there’s a well-stocked store, just inside the Grand Atrium, with a wide variety of products, including art pieces, jewelry, toys, home décor, collectibles, photos and books for sale.

MOHAI’s move to its new home also allows the museum to expand its public programming and provide a range of experiences that help people explore Puget Sound history.

“Our goal is to share the past in order to make sense of the present, while striving to create a better future,” says Lauren Semet, marketing and communications associate for MOHAI. “We want people to get excited about history and to take ownership so that we can continue to preserve it. There’s so much we can learn from our history.”

For more information: (206) 324-1126 or