In honor of Black History Month, we’re highlighting a community member who has written himself into Market history: taking the helm of one of the most beloved restaurants in the Market, and creating space to build more access and equity in our neighborhood.
Meet Chef Daisley Gordon, Executive Chef and owner of Café Campagne. A classic Parisian café located on the charming Post Alley, Café Campagne offers a dining experience exceptional in traditional French food and wine.
Daisley has been with the café since 1995, starting as a line chef soon after arriving in Seattle, and quickly rising through the ranks of sous chef, executive chef, and eventual owner. Since then, he has continued to bring the heart of France to the heart of Pike Place Market, all while supporting our community.
Though you might not expect a Jamaican-born, southern-raised Seattle transplant to become a world-renowned French chef, Chef Daisley’s background informs and enriches his style.
“If I’m working on a dish, I’ll think of the six different approaches I might be able to take,” he says, detailing his process. “I can present dishes rich in traditions of the French countryside, but they still need to be accommodating to the American palette.” In many ways, his roots in the Caribbean and American South help him present a more fully-realized dining experience. “So much of eating in any country is influenced by the physical environment. It’s the culture, it’s the history,” he reflects.
Daisley also credits his family with instilling in him a strong work ethic. “I don’t know if it’s my Jamaican disposition that makes me overly hopeful,” he says. “I was given an example of very hardworking immigrant parents, and being an immigrant myself, something made people willing to train me.”
His eagerness did not go unnoticed, connecting him with Seattle chefs like Tamara Murphy and Jim Droman who passed the Café Campagne legacy onto him. “My only plan was to work with the very best people I could,” remembers Daisley. “I thought that if I’m in the best environment, whatever opportunities that come from that will be worthwhile.”
Supporting the social services of the Market
Chef Daisley also formerly served on the Market Foundation board of directors. He remembers establishing himself in the neighborhood and learning about the senior center, health clinic, and other agencies in the same district as the restaurant. “Once I was introduced to all of the services of the Market, I decided that’s where my focus would be,” he says. You can find Daisley and the Café Campagne crew every year at the Market Foundation’s Sunset Supper event, cooking up delicious eats in support of the Market community.
He also feels especially connected to the food access programs available to residents and workers in the Market. “We understand over time how crucial the proper diet is to your wellbeing,” says Daisley. “Not just for being able to survive, but thrive and to function at your best. It is so important to help people nourish themselves in that way.”
Chef Daisley Gordon cooking up delicious lamb sausage at the 2021 Sunset Supper. Photo by Joshua Lewis.
Daisley has seen the restaurant through tough times in the past, but nothing quite like the tumultuous last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I spent all that time during the shutdown, just reading everything that was happening and what other restaurant people were doing,” he recalls. The team decided to shift from an experiential dine-in restaurant to takeaway. “Our only goal was to stay alive as a business in any form we can and get through this.”
Offering delivery seemed like a great way to reach customers in the downtown area, but most third-party delivery platforms price-gouge restaurants to the extent that it is not profitable. Daisley took matters into his own hands, purchasing a bike and becoming Café Campagne’s first delivery biker.
“Things were so bad during 2020 that there was no reason to complain. You had to be thankful for everything,” he says, thinking back on his days pedaling bouillabaisse to nearby condos downtown. “All I wanted to do was keep a pulse, and people thought it was great!” Daisely may not be doing bike deliveries in 2022, but some of those first delivery customers have come back to the Café, eager to experience the delicious dishes in person and support their favorite delivery biker.
Chef Daisley Gordon in 2020, ready to hop on his bike and start delivering. Courtesy of Cafe Campagne
Creating a better future for employees
As restaurants start to return to regular service and eager diners flock to their favorite spots once more, the industry is still reforming to reflect the actual cost of service. “We’re paying staff as much as we can,” says Daisley. “It used to be, ‘this is what we think the job will cost’, but now it is, ‘what will it take for us to support this person’.” He mentions that factors like transportation, parking, and childcare are can be expensive barriers for employees to navigate.
Servers and staff also must face health and safety concerns, continually putting themselves at risk of Covid when they come to work. “We need to make sure everyone is in a safe and stable workplace,” says Daisley. Café Campagne was one of the restaurants at the forefront of asking for vaccination verification, in an effort to ease staff’s health concerns.
Despite the challenges of the past two years, significant changes are happening to compensate service industry workers more fully and provide a more sustainable experience for guests. “People have come back to see us, even through limited capacity and the quiet seasons,” says Daisley. “I feel fortunate and good about the future.”
Mentoring the next generation
In paving the way for a new generation of chefs and business owners, Chef Daisley believes that relationships and mentorship are the key to creating more equitable opportunities in the restaurant industry and in our community.
“Culinary school can be very expensive. I will say that you don’t necessarily need to go to a top-tier culinary program to learn the foundations,” says Daisley. Café Campagne has consistently gotten great people from community college programs like Seattle Central Community College and South Seattle Community College.
“They have great chefs on staff focusing on teaching the basics… Cooking appears magical, but you still need to know how to boil a potato,” he laughs. “Creativity comes from developing these basic skills, and then you put them together in interesting ways.”
Chef Daisley Gordon speaking at the Market Foundation’s 2015 Care for the Market Luncheon.
When Daisley started at Café Campagne in 1995, he never imagined he would still be here 26 years later. Nevertheless, staying in one place has unexpectedly brought countless exciting journeys and opportunities for growth and honing his craft. “I feel super fortunate. I never intended to be a restaurant owner, it’s a tough business,” says Daisley. “After I stopped being afraid of it, I realized this was great.”
In many ways, he has become just as much of a Pike Place icon as his beloved café. “This place has so much history that I feel more like a caretaker than an owner,” he says. “It’s an iconic place, it has weathered lots of things, and I hold onto that history.” The legacy Chef Daisley has cultivated here in the Market is just another testament to his passion for great food and heart for his community.