by Ronnie Estoque
San Fernando’s Roasted Peruvian Chicken restaurant on Rainier Avenue South was known for its pollo a la brasa and crispy-skinned roast chicken, as well as for hosting joyous parties and live music. The walls were adorned with posters of Peru and art that owners Walter Diaz and Nancy Bautista had collected over the years. But after occupying the space for a decade, their restaurant has been forced to relocate to SeaTac. Soon their building will be demolished and replaced by an 8-story apartment building with retail space.
“[San Fernando’s] definitely felt like a very culturally rich, comforting place to be in,” Cynthia Brothers, founder of Vanishing Seattle and frequent customer of the popular restaurant, said. “While I was happy to hear that they found another new home in SeaTac, I’m also kind of bummed because it’s farther away.”
Vanishing Seattle utilizes various social media platforms to document the displaced and disappearing institutions, small businesses, and cultures of Seattle, often due to gentrification and development. Brothers remembers first seeing the land use action sign go up outside of the restaurant. She learned that Diaz and Bautista had initially sought to relocate in the same neighborhood but were ultimately unable to find a spot they could afford.
In 2011, Diaz and Bautista opened San Fernando’s Roasted Peruvian Chicken on 900 Rainier Ave. S., the second location of their family-oriented spot in Lynwood, which they opened in 2006. But the Rainier Avenue building was purchased in February 2020 by Nitze-Stagen, a real estate investment firm. San Fernando’s vacated the space this past November.
Lisa Nitze, vice president of marketing, investments, and community relations for Nitze-Stagen, anticipates that construction of the development, which they are calling “900 Rainier Avenue S.” will start this spring. The redevelopment will also include the widening of sidewalks along Rainier Avenue South and the creation of a large outdoor parking lot. The construction will take an estimated 24 months to complete.
O.Z. Navigator, which was created as a partnership between Nitze-Stagen and Housing Diversity Corporation, will serve as the developer of the property. Daniel Gallagher, who serves as vice president of acquisitions and development at Nitze-Stagen, also serves as a partner at O.Z. Navigator.
According to Gallagher, 70% of the housing units in the new development will be leased at market rate, 10% will be considered affordable housing units, in accordance with the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, and 20% will be income and rent-restricted units which will provide a tax exemption for the developer.
Though the permits for the building are still under review, Wendy Shark, a spokesperson for the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections, says the building plans indicate 420 total housing units.
Throughout the redevelopment process, Nitze-Stagen has conducted surveys to determine what local community members hope to see from the future retail space. The most common responses included: delis, coffee shops, a local bookstore, an art studio, local restaurants, and groceries.
“People felt that it was important that [the businesses] be locally run and hopefully be owned and operated by women or BIPOC community members,” Nitze said. Nitze and Diaz both reported that they are in discussions about the possibility of Diaz opening a new business in one of the new spaces.
“We know that [San Fernando’s] was very popular and had delicious food. So we hope we’ll be able to make that work,” said Nitze.
Housing units in the new building should be going on the market by the time the Judkins Park light rail station is completed. While properties near light rail stations have been attractive to developers for accessibility, Brothers, of Vanishing Seattle, hopes that there’s elevated discussion about who will have access to public transportation as the demographics of historically BIPOC neighborhoods change.
“How is transportation going to be done in a way that is serving folks who need it and not displacing people, you know, farther and farther out of the city?” Brothers posed.
Brothers and other community members hope that San Fernando’s return to the neighborhood can become a reality, especially as she’s seen a lot of small BIPOC-owned and immigrant-owned businesses close in recent years. “I want to remember, and celebrate, and pay tribute to these places and their different iterations. And [I] encourage folks to support these types of places in their communities,” said Brothers.
According to Diaz, San Fernando’s Roasted Peruvian Chicken expects to open their new SeaTac location, 16616 International Blvd., in six months. While he and Bautista have worked on the logistics for their grand opening in SeaTac, they have kept their Lynwood restaurant open during the pandemic — good news for those looking for a roasted chicken fix.
Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.
📸 Featured Image: Now permanently closed on its Rainier Avenue site, the popular San Fernando’s restaurant is looking to reopen in SeaTac this year, and developers hope it will make an eventual return to the area. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!