The Seattle restaurateur opened beloved Serafina in Eastlake 25 years ago.

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In sorrowful news for Seattle’s restaurant community and the city as a whole, restaurateur Susan Kaufman died of cancer this morning.

Kaufman got her start in the industry running a food cart in Juneau, Alaska, going on to open Eastlake’s much-loved, romantic Italian standby Serafina — now in its 25th year and still inspiring devotion from both customers and staff. Serafina general manager David Weeks noted recently that “The very first guests through the door are still coming here twice a week,” and that the longest-employed staff member had been bartending there since 1998, still pulling a shift “every Wednesday, rain or shine.” Kaufman added lively little sibling restaurant Cicchetti in 2009, tucked away in an adjacent building that architect George Suyama designed for his firm.

In 2010, Kaufman won the Nellie Cashman Business Owner of the Year, named after the pioneer, philanthropist, entrepreneur and gold prospector. Judge Anne-Marie Faiola celebrated Kaufman’s “enthusiasm for creating community through her food and restaurants… her can-do attitude, and her grace and wit under pressure.” Kaufman called the honor “the most amazing experience, being in the company of my incredibly talented co-finalists as well as a room full of accomplished, caring women… It is truly an amazing feeling to be recognized this way,” according to the Eastlake Ave blog.

Both Serafina and Cicchetti remain open, and a celebration of Kaufman’s life will be held there sometime in the next few weeks. The family will be selecting a fund for cancer research for those who would like to make donations in Kaufman’s name. More information will be made available on CaringBridge.

Kaufman’s family sends this remembrance:

“Susan Kaufman, long-time Seattle resident, business owner, and community member passed away on July 22, 2016. Susan was born in December 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. A natural entrepreneur, she started her first business at 16, selling her handmade purses on Fifth Avenue to Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and eventually to cast members of ‘Hair.’ Her love affair with cooking, especially Italian cuisine, blossomed in her early 20s. In 1977, Susan’s adventurous spirit took her to Juneau, Alaska, where she started with a food cart, then opened three restaurants and managed one during her residence there.

“In 1991, she moved to the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle and opened Serafina, which was an immediate success. Now in its 25th year, Serafina has consistently received numerous awards and is considered a Seattle institution. In 2009, she also opened Serafina’s sister restaurant Cicchetti, providing another special environment for diners. A year later she received the prestigious Nellie Cashman Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the creation and management of her outstanding restaurants, as well as her contribution to the Eastlake community.

“Susan’s passion for travel translated into another of her gifts, photography. Many of her stunning photos have been exhibited and grace the walls of Serafina and Cicchetti.

“Susan was a strong proponent of the local and sustainable food movement, and she deeply valued the creation of community. She infused her personal sense of style, sultriness, passion, love of food, community, and people into everything and everyone she touched.

“Running her restaurants combined everything Susan loved: food, wine, building her community, taking care of people, and indulging her creativity. Susan leaves behind her 19-year-old daughter, Isabella, and a multitude of people, both local and across the nation, who called her friend, cousin, and Mom. Susan lived true to the Italian idiom of bringing people together to share food and wine with family and friends. Her spirit will live on in the family she created at Serafina and Cicchetti and all of those she touched throughout her vibrant life. We are richer for it.”