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  • Sacred Stories
An Appetite for Leadership
Lisa Fernandez

Left: Victor Steinbrueck ’07 smiles for the camera at his restaurant, Local Tide.

“Opening Local Tide was a vulnerable and scary thing to do—cooking for people is a scary thing. It is a lot like creating art. You are never sure it’s good until someone else gives you validation.” — Victor Steinbrueck ’07 

Victor Steinbrueck ’07 is proof that success often lurks in unexpected places. At this year’s Ignatian Leadership Conference (ILC), a program for Seattle Prep juniors, Victor’s keynote address spoke to the happenstance nature of opportunity and the value of saying, “yes.” In college, this former self-proclaimed basketball athlete floundered through several injuries that derailed his career and expectations. With nothing left to do but pivot, Victor took a leap into the food business and today is the successful chef and owner of Local Tide, a Seattle seafood restaurant.

This fork in the road started long before Victor stepped onto the Prep campus. From an early age he often sat in his grandmother’s kitchen as she cooked her Chinese specialty—rice balls wrapped in banana leaves—or Adobo, another family favorite. The smells and good memories evoke waves of nostalgia in Victor. But he says that at the time he had only one thing on his mind—basketball.

“I flew under the radar a bit as a student at Prep,” Victor says. “I was never the first one to raise my hand in class or get too involved. My identity was grounded in playing basketball and it’s where I put all my energy and time.” He fondly recalls his coach, Brian Elsner ’97, who spoke about leadership and treating your team with care. They were important lessons that he would later build upon in creating his restaurant culture.

After returning to Seattle, mid-college, and enduring two surgeries, Victor experienced a textbook identity crisis. “I was lost in who I was,” he says. “You spend 20 plus years of your life identifying as an athlete. It’s difficult to figure out what’s next.”

That’s when a friend stepped in and asked Victor if he would consider being a personal chef for a Seattle Seahawk. Victor had no professional culinary training but what he did have was a love for connecting people through food. “I grew up in a kitchen, in a home where the time spent together was in the kitchen. I saw the beauty of what food brings to people and the camaraderie it builds.” He took the job.

Family and friends have been critical to Victor’s success. Ian Tierney ’08, the manager of Local Tide and a fish aficionado, is one of Victor’s best friends from Prep. They conceived of the restaurant together and ran popups out of a 2002 green Astro van for the first three years. Victor also credits another good Prep friend, Jack Lamb ’07, for his fortunate location. Jack, owner of Aslan Brewery, was the one who notified Victor when a space became available in the neighborhood. 

“When I talk about ‘home,’ I want to be able to give back in the way that is authentic to me and my upbringing. I hope to give back and create spaces that offer a true taste of Seattle through food, but to also help build a community and offer hospitality that is true to Seattle.” 

“Opening a restaurant was a much bigger process than I had dreamed of,” says Victor. “I realized the need for support from other people. The relationships I fostered growing up in Seattle and attending Seattle Prep made it possible to ask people for financial support or how to do things like install lights. The answers were there because of my relationships. We all know the importance of treating people well. But to see it pay off when you are the one in need of support was very eye-opening for me.”

Starting a restaurant is daunting but doing it in the middle of a COVID epidemic is downright overwhelming. But that is exactly what happened when Local Tide opened its doors in 2020. Victor originally envisioned a high-end seafood sit down restaurant. However, because of COVID he says, “we had to reimagine a new direction.” The restaurant created a menu of rice bowls and sandwiches for their portability. The new take-out concept was an overnight hit.

Victor has learned many lessons over the last three years. “My intention was to offer food and bring people together,” he says. “But what it’s done for me is to put me into a leadership role. When I am in the restaurant, I often make comparisons to sports, the need to be team oriented. I talk a lot about the need for everyone to play a part (dishwashers, front of house, chefs, etc.) and how each part is necessary for the greater good of the restaurant. If anyone falters, it’s a game loss and it’s no different here.”

His definition of leadership has also changed. “The biggest mistake is believing that your one way of leadership is going to work for everyone,” says Victor. “A leader needs to be adaptive and able to curate their leadership style for different people. A leader must be okay with being wrong. Ego can be our biggest enemy.”

Victor also leans into the Ignatian phrase cura personalis in guiding his success. “Kindness and thoughtfulness are keys to leadership. How you treat others is powerful. If you want respect, you need to show respect. Treat others as you would want to be treated. You never know when it will come back to you in the future. I cannot stress the importance of this in my path to owning a restaurant.”

Leadership is part of the Steinbrueck family lore. Victor’s uncle, Peter Steinbrueck, served as a Seattle City Council member and a Seattle Port Commissioner. His grandfather is well known for his role in designing Seattle’s Space Needle and his activism in preserving Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market. And his parents are owners of the Raven’s Nest Treasure (34 years and running) and the Steinbrueck Native Gallery, both in the Market.

Victor says “My parents’ shops influenced the opening of Local Tide. They gave me the confidence to create something of my own and not fear the risk associated with forging my own path. The shops also exposed me to art and culture at an early age, which has most definitely shaped my creativity and respect for cultures other than my own.”

Is it a coincidence or by design that Victor returned to his roots for inspiration?

“My grandfather led the charge to save the Market. Years later my family took over a small shop that provided for our livelihood. (My siblings and I even went to daycare there!) Then, 30 years later, I started my business there by having numerous pop ups for Local Tide. I realize none of this would have been possible if my grandfather hadn’t advocated to save the Market 52 years ago,” Victor says. “I often think about the legacy he created and how I can continue that legacy in my own way.”

For Victor, a native Seattleite, the idea of family and “home” is not only central to who he is but also integral to Local Tide’s mission. “I’ve lived my entire life here,” says Victor. “My family has strong ties to Seattle, and so this city is special to me. I have seen the changes over the years, and I miss a lot of what Seattle used to be. When I talk about “home,” I want to be able to give back in the way that is authentic to me and my upbringing. I hope to give back and create spaces that offer a true taste of Seattle through food, but to also help build a community and offer hospitality that is true to Seattle.” 

 

Victor Says 

Q: Favorite dish at Local Tide? A: Miso Black Cod Kasuzuke.

Q: Most popular dish at Local Tide? A: The hand-cracked Dungeness Crab Roll (weekends only!)

Q: Favorite Seattle restaurant? A: Ooink. The chef makes his own noodles, and the broth is great.

Q: What NBA team would you play for? A: The Sonics if they were back in Seattle. If it ever happens, I want to have a restaurant there.

Q: Favorite Prep teacher? A: Brian Meza ’92. What an organized guy!

Q: Is a Local Tide expansion in your future? A: I hope so. With only a 1,300 square foot location, we would like to have more room to prep and store food.

Q: Perfect dinner party? A: A small gathering in the San Juan Islands, catching a portion of our own food by way of fishing, crabbing or shrimping and then spending time cooking TOGETHER to make dinner. The menu would look something like this: hearty salad with veggies from a local farm, cheese platter with fresh bread and cheeses, self-caught Dungeness crab, spot prawns and fish and lots of butter for dipping, buttery mashed potatoes, rice, random side dishes made from the local co-op or farm, good wine and last but not least, homemade warm apple pie and vanilla ice cream. Simple but quality ingredients! People being the most important ingredient, of course. 

Victor’s Leadership Lessons 

Actions speak louder than words.

So much truth in this. Words are fleeting but your actions show your true character. 

Consistency.

Kindness, thoughtfulness and respect need to be consistent. Not just when it serves you. Consistency is how you build trust. I preach consistency at my restaurant in everything we do. How we show up. Our attitude. How we execute our food, service and presentation. How we respond to criticism. The small things matter. 

Experience.

Experience as much as you can, the good and the bad. Everything can teach us a lesson. 

Lose your ego.

Be vulnerable and honest. This requires putting our egos aside. Ego prevents us from finding the best path forward. 

Show up.

Show up consistently and put your energy towards something even when you can’t see the finish line. People will respond. 

Don’t fear risk.

Fear stops us from learning, growing and experiencing life. For me, the fear of regret is much stronger. I do not want to look back in 10, 20 years from now and wish I had tried something. I’d much rather “fail” than not have tried at all. Failure should be looked at as an opportunity to grow and move forward with more perspective. If you can do that, then failure actually becomes a win! 

Be courageous.

Stay true to your mission and stand for something greater than yourself. 

“I do not want to look back in 10, 20 years and wish I had tried something. I’d much rather ‘fail’ than not have tried at all. Failure should be looked at as an opportunity to grow and move forward with more perspective. If you can do that, then failure actually becomes a win!” 

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