Monday, August 2, 2021
Despo’s Quest to Address COVID Transforms Restaurant
Marie Stewart gives the cactus in front of Despo’s a colorful facelift.
Thursday, May 6, 2021


Rays from the afternoon sun illuminated the giant cactus in front of Despo’s as Bellevue artist Marie Stewart painted giant stripes of red, blue, green and orange on its outstretched arms.

Hers was a cosmetic touch to a cactus that was solid green for most of its life.

But those passing by her to partake of Cinco de Mayo specials on tacos and margaritas found themselves ushered into a restaurant boasting a variety of improvements born out of the COVID pandemic that might not be so readily noticeable.

The patio wraps around into the alley.

“We started looking at ways to address COVID, then we decided that instead of a bunch of expensive temporary fixes it made sense to do things that will improve the restaurant long-term. It just felt like the right thing to do,” said Amy Harris, who co-owns the restaurant with Traci Ireland.

During the past handful of months, staff have taken out 40 percent of the inside seating and installed a new air filtration system. Cloth seat covers have been replaced by vinyl seat coverings that can be wiped down and sanitized easily. Handsome wooden-framed glass has been installed between booths instead of the temporary Plexiglass fixes so many restaurants have gone to.

The crown jewel, however, would have to be the patio.

What was a tiny patio that seemed an afterthought has been expanded into a wraparound patio under cedar siding that will provide shade on hot summer days. It offers triple the seating of the old patio, which could hold six tables. And more space can be added on the side and in front of the restaurant.

Some of Despo’s staff have been with the restaurant more than two decades.

Two attractive looking propane firepits offer people a place to warm themselves while waiting for a table during colder months or a place to sit during summer months.

Adam Elias of Elias Construction and John Sweek, who specializes in architectural coatings, played a big role in the transformation.

“I enjoy eating at Despo’s—it’s down the street from my office and it’s a family favorite,” said Adam Elias, of Elias Construction. “We wanted to create a cantina feel with the patio. I think this cover will make it real comfortable in summertime.”

“I think it’s all fantastic,” said Sweek.

Traci Ireland co-owns Despo’s with Amy Harris.

Despo’s, opened by Jim Funk in 1983, has long been a magnet for those seeking its KMT salad with taco croutons, seafood tacos, carne asada boasting charbroiled marinated steak and chimichangas boasting flavorful grilled chicken.

Harris and Ireland took it over in January 2019 and continued Funk’s mission to be nearly 100 percent  biodegradable with biodegradable takeaway boxes and garbage sacks.

Their manager Kathy Seitz has been there 23 years, having started out as a server. And two of the cooks have more than 20 years under their chef’s aprons at Despo’s.

Stewart got a feel for the love that the restaurant’s patrons have for Despo’s as she listened to comments from passersby.

Ketchum residents John and Jineen Griffith enjoy the new booths featuring vinyl seats and glass dividers.

“I’m kind of like an introvert so it’s challenging for me to come out in public and paint, but I’m seeing real community here,” she said. “Everyone who comes by has a comment about the restaurant, about my artwork.”

Passersby liked the colorful new look to the cactus—it made them happy, they said.

“It’s challenging to paint because it’s not a smooth surface,” Stewart said. “But one guy said we should put on LED lights to make it pop at night. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!”


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