Mercer Island, WA

It takes a certain type of person to take a dream business plan and build it into reality. It also takes a supreme level of trust in another person to help you create exactly what you want, especially if you’re not entirely sure how to make every detail happen.

For Lisa and Rino Caruccio, that person is Suzanne Zahr.

Caruccio’s is the newest state-of-the-art Culinary Event Center on Mercer Island, set to have their grand opening on Thursday, September 14th. It all started from an idea that Lisa Caruccio had to create a space for the community to gather, eat, and learn, along with elevating the culinary arts.

Lisa approached Suzanne with her idea over a year ago, and Suzanne offered to help her come up with a plan. Lisa chose to work with Suzanne because she felt that “Suzanne was not only a successful professional in her field, with great proof of that, but that she had a kindness and genuine nature that are of paramount importance to me when I decide to work with someone.”

The Dream

With a passion for international cuisine and beautifully-made food, Lisa wanted the centerpiece of Caruccio’s to be a multi-sensory demonstration kitchen to capture the sights, sounds, and tastes of food made by culinary artists who want to share their talents with the community.

She dreamed of having a place with a beautiful kitchen where private parties could gather for anything they’d like, whether it’s a team-oriented cooking class, a pop-up venture, or a specially-catered event. For an even more immersive experience, she wanted to host various chefs for culinary showcases and hold Film and Food Nights, opening up the space for engaging, community-oriented events.

At the heart of Caruccio’s is a desire to make a place that the community can realize their own dreams and share their passions with others. It’s an idea that encompasses Lisa’s life passion project: to bring people and artistic cuisine together.   

The Reality

Over the past year, Suzanne has been involved with the entire project life cycle to help Lisa make this dream into a reality – from feasibility studies, lease negotiations, business planning, and brand identity development, to designing and building the event center with her design-build firm. 

At the very beginning of the project life cycle, establishing trust is key. Suzanne explained that even though her job title may read Architect or General Contractor, “trust is my true currency. I take the goals and dreams of my clientele to heart. I believed in Lisa Caruccio and her business concept from go.”

Suzanne and Lisa’s partnership is based on trust, as well as an acknowledgement that it takes a lot of effort to bring an idea to fruition. “[Lisa] had a vision, though not a clear path of reaching her ambitions. Step by step, we teamed up to figure it out together,” Suzanne shared. “It’s vital to work directly with architects, builders, and a team of creative consultants that take the time to create exactly what you want, a team that will return to the drawing board until they’ve truly made your idea into reality.”

With her breadth of experience in different sectors across architecture, marketing, and construction, Suzanne’s ability to speak the different industry “languages” helped create an innovative space like Caruccio’s. Since she can navigate multiple realms at the same time, Suzanne has been involved with mediating different agendas and negotiating between the various stakeholders involved.

“There’s nothing more gratifying than being part of a start-up business take flight!” she exclaimed while discussing her various roles within the project. This integrated approach to working with the Caruccios has helped their new business navigate the various phases of their own professional growth and development.

While discussing the advantages to having a single point of contact for all parts of her business plan, Lisa described how, “The benefit is the quality control and trust.  And the continuity across all areas.” In regard to working with Suzanne in particular, she felt that, “To start with one person who ‘gets you’ and your business ideas, like Suzanne does, gave me the confidence that my personality, dream, and ideas will come to life exactly the way I wanted.”

Now, after many months of planning, countless meetings, and dozens of decisions, Lisa’s dream is finally coming to life.

Designing the Space

Inspired by a love for her community, as well as her Italian grandfather (who was an accomplished chef), Lisa wanted the vibe of Caruccio’s to capture a sense of warmth. Suzanne and Lisa first started by designing the demonstration kitchen. With a half-moon counter top and seats at the counter, the kitchen is designed to bring guests into the cooking experience, inviting them to gather around and take a seat right where the action is taking place.

Coming up with a physical design to accurately reflect Lisa’s dream meant many meetings and many discussions to make sure they could get everything just right. “We talked many hours about how I envisioned Caruccio's operating and how to make that happen. And [Suzanne] is a perfectionist, in such a good way,” Lisa commented.  “She would never offer ideas that were not architecturally sound or ones that were not practical or to ‘code.’”

The hearth, at the center of the space and in the center of the kitchen, becomes the centerpiece for the entire space. Designed to help with ventilation for the food items cooking on the stove, the hearth will also have a glowing orange decor on the outside to evoke a sense of warmth radiating throughout the space. As a vital piece of the physical design, this hearth is even included in the monogram for Caruccio's brand identity. 

With Lisa’s trust, Suzanne designed Caruccio’s with each aspect of her dream in mind, and since she also oversaw the other teams, Suzanne provided consistency and made sure the dream was realized in each step of the process. “Suzanne has a great talented team working for her, and it's been great having her as the one point of final contact,” Lisa shared. “For the few times that something didn't come out quite to my liking, it was a quick fix because Suzanne and I have always had an understanding of my vision and what I want.  [We have] great communication, and she's always easy to reach, which means a lot to me.” 

A Fully Realized Dream

It takes a great amount of work to make a dream into a reality. To achieve these goals, especially when starting a new business, Suzanne believes “it has everything to do with figuring it out along the way, pulling resources together and adjusting as you go." 

“I have had this dream and this vision my entire life.  To see it all come together, in all areas, is incredible,” Lisa said. Together with Suzanne and the SZ Build, Inc. team, Caruccio’s is no longer just an idea – it’s a living, breathing entity, ready to welcome its guests.

Caruccio's is now open; visit the website for Caruccio's to learn about events, the venue, and  more of Lisa's story. 

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Caruccio's Design-Build Project Team:
Suzanne Zahr, Architect / General Contractor
Ed Bom, Construction Manager
Gary Henderson, Interior Designer
Emily Wold, Architectural Designer
Lara Tedrow, Designer
Magdiel Dahilig, Designer
Kim Benjamin, Accounting Manager
Lisa Lopez, Accounting Manager

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Written by Julia Hess