Opening Bell

Healthy Food Drives Deal

Entrepreneurs Norman Wu and Lisa Nordstrom join forces over a shared passion

By Rob Smith April 16, 2024

Entrepreneur Norman Wu, right, with his wife, Rachel Barrnecut.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

It began with the creation of a healthy snack. It morphed into a café. Now, a major investment will transform the very nature of Sano Café.

Conscious Hospitality Group co-founder Norman Wu is making a major investment in Sano Café, a small establishment on Mercer Island that offers espresso, juices, smoothies, breakfast, and lunch. Lisa Nordstrom, who founded the Sano Bar — a healthy, natural, whole food snack in 2015 with her three daughters, who were then 12, 14, and 16 — will remain involved as an adviser. Conscious will become the “operating engine” of the restaurant.

First up: A second Sano Café location in downtown Bellevue and interior upgrades, though Wu vows that the menu will remain essentially the same.

Seattle-based Conscious Hospitality Group operates 28 Just Poké restaurants and also owns Sugo and Matcha Magic. Wu, whose company focuses on the bigger picture of a healthy planet and healthy living, became interested in Sano Café after a chance meeting with Nordstrom at the Kirkland Just Poké location — the company’s first — years ago.

Nordstrom enjoyed the food — she even remembers the acai bowl — but she routinely popped into healthy eating restaurants while gathering intel for Sano Café. Since it was Just Poké’s first restaurant, Wu recalls working the line when Nordstrom came in.

Wu, a Mercer Island resident, and Nordstrom, who lives in Bellevue with her husband, Jamie — Nordstrom’s chief merchandising officer and the cousin of Nordstrom CEO Erik Nordstrom and President Pete Nordstrom — quickly realized they had something in common: a love of the Eastside. Wu even attended high school with Nordstrom’s nephew.

“If you want to be successful, you have to know what other people are doing,” Wu says. “Even in that interaction, it made me excited to work with her because of how much care and detail she puts into every part of the business.”

Wu has big plans for his new acquisition. Just Poké, for instance, operates a popular location at T-Mobile Park, and Wu envisions more Sano Cafés across the city, including at large companies and in gyms. He also plans to introduce a grab-and-go concept, as well as update the branding. He anticipates up to 30 locations eventually.

Until recently, Nordstrom routinely worked the floor at Sano. She says she’ll miss the camaraderie and family feel of the restaurant she founded six years ago, but realized she needed a like-minded partner to grow the business. “The menu is definitely my passion,” she says. “My focus will definitely be to keep the menu and the food. The concept is really important to me to keep that going.”

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