Welcome to the Zodiac Supper Club, where you cook food on a communal grill while sipping cocktails and have full control over the seasonings and spices.
The group grilling allows for plenty of cook banter between diners in your group and even the complete strangers who happen to be standing next to you.
Everyone has a different version of perfection, says co-owner Dave Verellen, who once witnessed a customer cook her steak to a crisp. “No restaurant is going to make a steak that is that well-done, but that’s how that customer likes it,” he says.
Zodiac Supper Club opened in its new location at 1116 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in September. The 21-and-over supper club, modeled after similar American-grill-your-own restaurants around the country, originally opened July 2015 in Tacoma’s theater district. It was forced to close about 18 months later after a water pipe broke in the building.
The closure was a major setback, says Dana Verellen, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Dave, and friend, Suzanne Ramon. However, the positive customer feedback was strong. The restaurant enjoyed a positive cash flow, and they were able to pay all their bills.
They decided to give the restaurant concept another go in a different location. It took a long time to find the right spot on Hilltop, but the trio is optimistic that the downtown rehabilitation, and growth of UW Tacoma and the Tacoma Link expansion, will put their new location within easy reach of eager customers.
So far, business has been better at the new location. The number of employees jumped from seven to 15.
While the grill-your-own meat establishment is novel in Tacoma, Dana Verellen borrowed the idea from one of her old San Diego haunts. She loved San Diego’s Turf Supper Club.
When she moved to Tacoma in 2006, she met Ramon, and the two started talking about bringing that DIY restaurant concept to the area.
“We got the vibe that the community could support another bar,” Ramon said.
Then Dana married Dave — who is a firefighter. It was him who really got the project off the ground by filling out all the necessary paperwork, she says.
“I was waiting for it all to fall apart,” he said. “But it never did. Things fell into place.”
In addition to burgers and steaks, patrons can order homemade ’70s-style dishes like mushroom skewers and potato salad.
Mashed potatoes are served daily and — in keeping with the ’70s-something theme — the restaurant offers Taco Tuesdays.
“It’s a family reunion style spread,” Dana says. “It’s things you wouldn’t normally see on menus. Nothing comes out of a can.”
The food is unique, Suzanne says. “We are not competing with other bars.”
The TVs feature classic movies (conversation starters), and the jukebox is stocked with an eclectic mix of old and new favorites from all genres.
The room is arranged so people can interact with each other, Dana said.
The restaurant occasionally hosts pool-free “pool parties,” which feature bands and dancing. Customers are encouraged to dress up according to the theme.
“We do a photo backdrop for prom-like pictures,” she says. “There is a lot of participation.”
Their feedback has been mostly positive, Dana said.
“This concept is not for everyone. Some people just come here to drink. But we have a loyal following that is growing with time.”