When you visit Pioneer Square D&E for your first lunch, your introductory order is essentially mandated: The Chicken Sandwich.
For $12, the delectable sandwich comes with fries (or salad) and a can of Rainier (or soda), and it has been by far their most popular menu item since the restaurant opened in 2018. With plenty of more unusual fare popping up around Seattle, co-owner Jonathan Fleming describes the combo meal as an option intentionally designed to be comforting and disarming.
“The can of beer just tells people it’s okay to sit back and relax,” Fleming said.
Their fan-favorite menu item is largely indicative of the broader goal of Pioneer Square D&E, which is to serve as an integrated part of the Pioneer Square community, and a place where all are welcome. Fleming’s desire to attract and entertain a diverse crowd, he says, can be traced back to his experience in the Army. He was enlisted for three years, starting when he was 18.
“You meet so many people from so many walks of life, from all around the country,” Fleming said. “It helped me. I don’t feel like there’s any person or conversation that I can’t be apart of.”
After leaving the Army to study at University of Washington on the G.I. Bill, Fleming started working at Ivar’s. As Fleming continued to progress in restaurant management, he met his wife and Pioneer Square D&E co-owner, Libby Aker. As the two began to grow their restaurant experience, and their family, it was clear that they wanted their own place, a place where their daughter could grow up.
“It feels totally comfortable to have my daughter running around, and we really love that,” Fleming said.
Reflecting on his time in the Army, Fleming believes that military experience can prepare entrepreneurs, and restaurateurs in particular, for handling stressful experiences.
“Learning how to remain calm under pressure is something that can be a strength in the restaurant industry,” Fleming said. “The busiest of times in restaurants is super hectic and I don’t think people who haven’t been involved in restaurants understand what it is that some of the people in restaurants go through to make things right. Some of the people I’ve worked with see that as a strength of mine, not succumbing to the pressure when it gets busy.”
Pioneer Square D&E has definitely been busy. According to Fleming, the support from the community of people who live and work in Pioneer Square has been robust. And it has been a particularly exciting process for Fleming and Aker because they’ve been long time residents of the area, and feel well-supported by their neighbors.
Next month is only the first anniversary of the restaurant, but Fleming has already embraced opportunities to give back. In partnership with a local organization, Bunker Labs, Fleming has helped to raise funds to support other veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses.
“To come back into the community and essentially start over can be really tough. These are people who committed to put their life on the line, if necessary, for our country.”
While Fleming says the day-to-day experience of owning the restaurant isn’t too different from his 15 years of restaurant management, he says the big difference is building a legacy with his family. A legacy, may we add, that includes many, many chicken sandwiches.
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