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Monday, February 11, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Name Suggests Tranquil Escape

Recession and war are casting long shadows over the U.S. economy, but Seattle's largest restaurant company is moving ahead with a major waterfront restaurant at the new Elliott Bay Marina.

Restaurants Unlimited Inc. has found a name for its new restaurant, Palisade, and is going ahead with plans to open the $3 million project in late fall or early next winter.

Though the recession has cut into all aspects of RUI's business, ``We're going full speed ahead,'' said Rick Giboney, vice president, marketing director and head of the company team that develops new restaurants. RUI owns 22 restaurants from Philadelphia to Honolulu.

However, at the moment, ``full speed ahead'' amounts to a waiting game - waiting for construction on the marina and the building that will hold the Palisade restaurant.

``We are waiting for city permits, and I do not know if that will take another two months or another four months,'' said John Kaiser, president of Elliott Bay Marina Inc., the developer.

For its marina restaurant, RUI spent more than a month and nearly $10,000 to come up with the name Palisade. That name will play a big part in shaping the image of the restaurant, said Rich Komen, RUI founder and chairman.

The name was picked through a process that has been refined over more than a decade by Terry Heckler, founder of Heckler Associates in Seattle, who has created such local names as Starbucks and Abodio, as well as the names of RUI's other restaurants.

``We imagined ourselves looking across Elliott Bay, pointing at this sparkling place that never existed before,'' Heckler said. ``Then we said some names out loud. When we looked at the (Magnolia) bluff, we began to think of Palisades. And the more we looked at that, the more `Palisade' emerged'' as the favored name Heckler Associates would recommend.

After weeks of study, along with legal trademark searches, Heckler proposed five possible names.

The new restaurant might have been named Nola Beach, an unusual name not likely to be forgotten. ``But it didn't have the mystery of Palisade,'' said Giboney.

Heckler's other proposals included Magenta (rejected for its heavy focus on a single color); Manoa (too heavy on the South Seas character that is part - but only part - of RUI's vision for the new restaurant); and Merida (nice, but not particularly memorable).

After a straw poll inside RUI's headquarters at the north end of Lake Union, ``Palisade just emerged'' as the right name, said Giboney.

He said the name carries a sense of mystery and grandeur, reflecting the cliffs that will tower over the new restaurant.

The chosen name suggests a ``palace,'' reflecting RUI's vision of a special-occasion restaurant that will offer tranquility, an escape from urban pressures and ``sensuous landmark dining,'' said Komen.

That vision is a new one for RUI, which for the past decade has specialized in high-energy ``urban bistros,'' including Cutters Bayhouse, Palomino and Triples.

As it does in almost every aspect of its business, RUI studied the small details of its new name.

In evaluating the merits of Palisade as a name, Giboney said, ``We were struck with the crispness of the letters, like `p' and `d.' There is not another name like it in the city.''

``That name accomplishes most of what we wanted it to,'' Komen said. ``More than anything else, the purpose of the name is to induce trial,'' to get customers to try out the restaurant, which will be RUI's largest and most extravagant venture yet.

In the logo Heckler later created, a marketing tagline was added to the name: ``Soaring Waterfront Dining.''

The view - including Seattle's waterfront, the city skyline, the Olympics and Mount Rainier - will be one of Palisade's strongest attributes.

Palisade, a new Minneapolis Palomino and the company's still-unnamed pizza/pasta restaurant to be opened in the Newmark Office Tower under construction in downtown Seattle will be the extent of RUI's new ventures this year.

Giboney said RUI has no plans to open other Palomino restaurants, but he does not rule out the possibility. ``We are opportunistic rather than strategic,'' he said, meaning the company seeks individual opportunities, usually driven by the availability of a site, then figures out the best way to take advantage of each opportunity.

However, Komen has no intention of speeding up expansion. ``Two or three a year, that is a matter of management, not of money,'' he said. ``Money has never been a problem, and it is not a problem now.''

The ``problem'' with growing faster is training management and keeping quality up to RUI's high expectations.

Those high expectations have helped shape the company's response to the current recession.

``We are not going to cut spending at the restaurants,'' Komen said. ``This is a time when we cannot make mistakes, and we want to make certain that our guests are not negatively impacted by anything. There will be no price increases unless absolutely necessary.''

Komen said the company started feeling the recession last summer.

``For us, 1990 was two years in one,'' he said. The first half of last year was a continuation of 1989, with an average 7 percent growth in sales of existing restaurants through June.

``Then it started to flatten out,'' Komen said. Since then, ``sales have been flat. We feel very fortunate that we have not been impacted more than that.''

The recession's impact has not been spread evenly over RUI's territory. Restaurants in Honolulu are doing well; sales at RUI's Cinnabon bakery outlets in the East are down. Business is up in the West, but the growth is only half what it was a year ago.

Komen said it is hard to see a pattern in results so far in 1991. Snowstorms in December and January, coupled with the outbreak of war, threw an unusual curve at the company. ``You have to almost take the past month and throw it out the window'' for comparison purposes, he said.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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