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Lunch at the Shop: A Seattle Shop Owner on the Importance of the Lunch Break

Peter Miller prepares a shop lunch of meatballs, cardamom rice, arugula and pickled onions for Rachel. (Photo by Rachel Belle)

Poor, poor lunch. While breakfast maintains its longstanding title of ‘Most Important Meal of the Day’ and dinner is warm, familial and often celebratory, weekday lunch has been demoted to a rush, an afterthought, a blur of disposable containers. Many of us eat our lunch at our desks.

But eight years ago, Peter Miller of Peter Miller Architectural and Design Books and Supplies, in Seattle’s Belletown neighborhood, unintentionally decided to take back lunch. It was December and with the holiday rush, there was no time to leave the store each day for a take-out lunch.

“I thought, well, we’ll make lunch. So I ran down to DeLaurenti and got what I could think of, little picnic salts and picnic peppers. The shop was near the Public Market so it was easy to get a loaf of bread and some butter and a pear for dessert. We got all that and we came back and I threw something together in the stainless steel bowl and it was pretty good!”

Peter and his co-workers assembled the meal and ate together that day. And they liked it. So a new tradition was born.

“We would get texts from somebody saying, ‘Oh, I have an extra chicken,’ ‘Should I bring some apples to work?’ It became an interesting little improvisation of, sometimes you didn’t know what you would have.”

Everyday since they have made lunch at the shop and taken a break to eat it. Always using real plates, silverware and placemats.

“People brought some plates from home and someone said, oh, they were emptying an office and did we want a microwave and someone else had a refrigerator from college. It was a great pleasure. It was a relief to not always be spending your extra change on lunch and you weren’t standing in line to get your particular little item. We were actually eating together.”

Peter has a new book called Lunch At the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal, that includes stories, tips on preparing food at an office and 50 recipes, many of them very simple.

“There’s a dish with a kind of brie cheese, d’Affinois, and apples and a little apple butter and it’s hard not to fall in love with. But it’s really good when it’s Fall, when the apples are really good.”

I read and loved Peter’s book, but I admit I had this thought: people in many other countries might laugh at it. A book about taking a break to eat lunch? With recipes for simple salads and sandwiches and leftover lentils and rice? That’s just day-to-day life in other parts of the world.
But in our country, where nose-to-the-grindstone hard work is (in my opinion) overvalued, it is a novel concept.

“I don’t see it as a sentimental return or a return to more idyllic times. I see it as, you can take the 25 minutes for lunch, you can stop for a minute. Sitting and having lunch with a few other people, I think it’s more intimate than it is corny and I think it’s quite grown up. Take an intermission, get up off your butt, have a glass of water, talk to a few people. Or don’t talk to them! That’s not part of the necessary menu. Have a lunch.”

Today I got to join Peter and his small staff for lunch.

“We have some meatballs that I made and some rice.”

There was a spoonful of leftover guacamole, some pink pickled onions, ciabatta rolls from a nearby bakery. Peter found a handful of arugula in the fridge and made a quick dressing with some staples he keeps on hand. In his office, above a shelf stocked with packing tape, are jars of gourmet honey and mustard, spaghetti imported from Italy.

“If you’re going to do it right you need some olive oil, you need some vinegar, you need a lemon or two. But once you get these few things then it seems you can do quite a lot.”

For a link to Peter’s book, that contains some lovely recipes, click here.

And maybe, just one day this week, give yourself a proper lunch break.

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