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Popular cafe and cheese store in Tacoma gets new owners. Here’s who they are

Stink Cheese and Meat is a combination cafe and wine bar in the St. Helens neighborhood.
Stink Cheese and Meat is a combination cafe and wine bar in the St. Helens neighborhood. skidd@thenewstribune.com

Stink Cheese and Meat, the 7-year old cafe and wine bar with the tongue-in-cheek-name, has new owners.

Business partners Steve Ramsey and Jenny Smith purchased Stink from Tacoma restaurateur Kris Blondin. The sale of the St. Helens neighborhood business closed last week.

Blondin originally opened the combination cafe and meat-and-cheese store with business partner Jack Noble in 2011. The cafe became known as one of the city’s go-to spots for fancy cheese plates and other cheese-laden menu items.

Noble later exited the business, and Blondin became the sole owner of the cafe.

The cafe opened with an adjoining kitchen and food store, but that was changed to a wine bar in 2012. In 2015, Blondin renamed the wine bar from Stink Tank to El Tufo and changed the focus to Spanish-style tapas and the city’s deepest list of Spanish wines.

Ramsey and Smith bought the business because the cafe and wine bar already has a steady following and a menu they admire.

“We looked everywhere from way-over-our-head places to hole-in-the-wall little, dirty dive bars,” said Ramsey.

When they saw Stink was for sale, it met all their criteria.

tufo_3
Chorizo stuffed calamariat, left, fried mahon cheese with tomato sauce, right, and white beans with chorizo, back center, at El Tufo in Tacoma on Thursday, May 14, 2015. A spanish red wine joins the dishes. Lui Kit Wong News Tribune file photo

“The quality of the food. The building is beautiful. You’re in a great neighborhood. You have all the businesses, all the condos coming in,” Ramsey said. “Some of the areas we looked at, we would have to have security on a regular night. The fact that it’s an established name and it’s not something that needs a lot of work … was attractive.”

In recent days, the duo worked alongside Blondin and the staff to learn the menu. They plan to keep everything the same for the time being, including the name, the menu and some of its employees. Some employees will leave, however, because Ramsey and Smith will be on-premise owners.

Ramsey said any changes they make in the near future will be minor. He plans to broaden the bar menu with a few whiskey cocktails and is looking at expanding the beer selection.

Ramsey is a longtime local food industry worker. His first job was at age 15 as the dishwasher at BBQ Pete’s. Ramsey has never owned a restaurant, but Smith’s parents were the owners of a Lakewood restaurant. Like Ramsey, Smith has worked her entire career in restaurants. The duo met while working together at a restaurant.

vin grotto
Kris Blondin, owner of Vin Grotto Wine and Cafe in downtown Tacoma, checks the wine inventory of her business in this 2005 photo. Lui Kit Wong News Tribune file photo

Blondin said selling the business she founded has been “ bittersweet.”

She added, “I’m relieved, I’m sad. I’ve cried. I’ve had some sleepless nights. It’s time. I kind of feel my future is really open right now.”

Her most immediate plan is a vacation followed by helping her husband Dustin start a new business.

She’ll also team up with beer guru Ron Swarner of the Proctor neighborhood’s Peaks and Pints for a beer-and-cheese pairing event March 31 that will be a fundraiser for trail restoration around the Columbia Gorge.

Blondin said she’ll work again in the Tacoma area, but it won’t be a restaurant. She previously owned Vin Grotto, a restaurant in downtown Tacoma, from 2003-2008.

“I have a designated group of friends who will take me into a room and beat me senseless” if she starts talking about working in restaurants again, she said.

In between Vin Grotto and opening Stink, she worked for two years as a wine distributor and that’s something she’s interested in doing again.

“It’ll be something with wine, probably,” she said.

Stink Cheese and Meat

628 St. Helens Ave, Tacoma

El Tufo: 630 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma

Info: 253-426-1347, stinktacoma.com

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