When it came time for chef and business-owner Jonathan Sutton to name his new restaurant, he considered the history of the space. The building on Grand Avenue in downtown Bellingham was previously home to Michael’s Books, which closed in 2015 after more than 30 years of business. To honor the building’s literary history, Sutton settled on the name Storia Cucina, which is Italian for Kitchen Story. It’s an appropriate name for a restaurant that strives to tell a story through its food.  

Sutton’s story begins on Lopez Island, where he grew up. His family was big on food, using local ingredients to recreate Italian recipes passed down through generations. Sutton still has family in Italy, which he visits regularly.  

Despite his love for the island, Sutton eventually left Lopez to attend culinary school. From there he worked in Chicago, Miami, D.C., and Portland before settling in San Francisco. All the while, he would return to Lopez and prepare dinners for the community. This is how he met Arlen Coiley, who also grew up on Lopez and shared an interest in food. Coiley eventually interned at Sutton’s restaurant in San Francisco, where the two became quick friends. Coiley is now a partner and chef de cuisine at Storia. 

Despite Sutton’s success in the Bay Area, he began to feel the tug toward home.  

“I wanted to get back to my roots, be closer to my family,” he says. Eventually he decided on Bellingham, which is both close to family and large enough to sustain a restaurant.  

The concept for Storia Cucina came together when Coiley took Sutton to visit Cairnsprings Mills in Burlington. When Sutton saw the artisanal flour, which is gaining traction around the Pacific Northwest and beyond, he knew he wanted to make pasta.   

Affordable, Local, & Delicious   

Storia Cucina offers a simple, no-fuss menu, meant to reduce decision-fatigue and prioritize quality over quantity.  

Take the pizzas, for instance. Instead of dozens of novelty combinations, you’ll find four options: Margherita, Marinara, Pepperoni, and Seasonal. If you want more toppings, you can choose from a list of add-ons like pickled peppers, anchovies, or burrata. Everything is as local as possible. The mozzarella starts with curds from a farm in Ferndale and is hand-stretched in-house. The basil is delivered every other day, from a local farmer. Pair this with a 50-year-old sourdough starter used to make an exceptionally flavorful crust, and you’ll understand why these pies are so special. Each pie is 12 inches, making it a great size for sharing or eating alone.   

When it comes to starters and sides, the menu has several options, all of them delicious. My favorites include the Roasted Cauliflower ($6), the Arancini ($11), and the homemade Focaccia ($4), which features the same 1971 sourdough starter used in the pizza dough and comes with marinara sauce for dipping.  

For a main dish, go with the Papperdeli Bolognase ($18). Like all the restaurant’s pasta, the long, chewy ribbons of papperdeli are made in-house, using a pasta extruder from Italy. Packed with generous chunks of local pork and ground beef from Carne and flavored with fall herbs like sage and rosemary, it’s the perfect comfort food for a rainy Bellingham evening.  

Cocktail lovers are in good hands with beverage director Matthew Boudousquie. His menu includes classic Italian cocktails like the Aperol Spritz ($10), perfect for happy hour, which runs from 3-6pm daily. For something more unique, try the Bishop ($11), a novel combination of mastika, mezcal, cassis, and green chartreuse. The result is a smoke-forward elixir with notes of anise, spearmint, and lime. Storia also offers local and imported Italian wines, with plans to add a local wine on tap.  

Rough Beginnings, Smooth Horizons  

Storia Cucina opened on March 18,only a few days after Washington’s stay-at-home order. 

“In a way I was glad that it happened before instead of after,” Sutton says, finding a silver lining to the disruption. Rather than opening and then closing, the restaurant simply launched with take-out service.  

The stay-at-home order feels especially cruel considering the work Sutton and his team put into renovations. The restaurant is bright, cheerful, and tastefully decorated, certain to lift your spirits even on a drizzly autumn night. Other nods to the former bookstore include shelves of vintage Italian books and a library ladder used to access liquor. A playful mural on one wall is the creation of Sutton’s former ceramics teacher, Pinckley Templeton, whom he worked with back in California. Across the room are photos of Sutton’s niece eating (and playing with) pasta.  

If you’re looking for a new restaurant certain to become a staple, make Storia Cucina your next stop. Open for lunch, dinner, and late-night bites every day except Tuesday. 109 Grand Ave., Ste. 102, Bellingham, 360.734.1929, storiacucina.com  

For more like this, check out our Taste section here.