Thursday, August 4 2022

by Ronnie Estoque

San Fernando’s Roasted Peruvian Chicken restaurant on Rainier Avenue South was known for its pollo a la brasa and crispy-skin roasted chicken, as well as hosting happy parties and live music. The walls were adorned with posters from Peru and artwork that owners Walter Diaz and Nancy Bautista had collected over the years. But after occupying the space for a decade, their restaurant was forced to move to SeaTac. Soon, their building will be demolished and replaced with an 8-story apartment building with commercial space.

“[San Fernando’s] It really felt like a very culturally rich and heartwarming place,” said Cynthia Brothers, founder of Vanishing Seattle and frequent customer of the popular restaurant. “While I was happy to hear that they have found another new home in SeaTac, I’m also a little disappointed because it’s further afield.”

Disappearance of Seattle uses various social media platforms to document Seattle’s displaced and disappearing institutions, small businesses, and cultures, often due to gentrification and development. Brothers remembers first seeing the land use action sign outside the restaurant. She learned that Diaz and Bautista initially looked to move to the same neighborhood but ultimately couldn’t find a place they could afford.

In 2011, Diaz and Bautista opened San Fernando Roast Peruvian Chicken at 900 Rainier Ave. S., the second location of their family restaurant in Lynwood, which they opened in 2006. But the building on Avenue Rainier was acquired in February 2020 by Nitze-Stagen, a real estate investment company. San Fernando left space last November.

Lisa Nitze, vice president of marketing, investments and community relations for Nitze-Stagen, anticipates construction of the development, which they call “900 Rainier Avenue S.” will begin this spring. The redevelopment will also include widening the sidewalks along Rainier Avenue South and creating a large outdoor parking lot. Construction will take approximately 24 months.

OZ Navigator, which was created in partnership between Nitze-Stagen and Housing Diversity Corporation, will serve as the developer of the property. Daniel Gallagher, vice president of acquisitions and development at Nitze-Stagen, is also a partner at OZ Navigator.

According to Gallagher, 70% of the housing units in the new development will be rented at market rates, 10% will be considered affordable housing units under the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, and 20% will be income units and rent-restricted units that will offer a tax exemption to the developer.

Although building permits are still being reviewed, Wendy Shark, spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Building and Inspections, said building plans show 420 total housing units.

Throughout the redevelopment process, Nitze-Stagen conducted surveys to determine what local community members hoped to see from the future retail space. The most common answers included: delis, cafes, local bookstore, art studio, local restaurants and grocery stores.

“People felt it was important that [the businesses] be locally owned and hopefully owned and operated by women or members of the BIPOC community,” Nitze said. Both Nitze and Diaz reported that they were 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 hopefully we can make it work,” Nitze said.

Housing units in the new building are expected to come on the market when the Judkins Park light rail station is completed. While properties near light rail stations have attracted developers for their accessibility, Brothers, of Vanishing Seattle, hopes there will be a lively discussion about who will have access to public transit as neighborhood demographics historically BIPOC will change.

“How is transportation going to be done in a way that serves people who need it and not moves people, you know, further and further out of town?” The brothers posed.

The brothers and other community members are hopeful that San Fernando’s return to the neighborhood will become a reality, especially since it has seen many BIPOC-owned and immigrant-owned small businesses close in recent years. “I want to remember, celebrate and pay homage to these places and their different iterations. And [I] encourage people to support these types of places in their communities,” Brothers said.

According to Diaz, Peruvian San Fernando Roast Chicken plans to open its new SeaTac location, 16616 International Blvd., in six months. While he and Bautista worked on the logistics of their grand opening at SeaTac, they kept their Lynwood restaurant open during the pandemic — good news for those looking for a rotisserie chicken fix.

Ronnie Estoque is a freelance photographer and videographer based in South Seattle. You can follow his work by consulting his website.

📸 The featured image: Now permanently closed at its Rainier Avenue site, the popular San Fernando restaurant plans to reopen at SeaTac this year, and developers hope it will make an eventual return to the area. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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