- Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once told the founder of daily deals site Woot over breakfast that he had acquired the company because it was like the “breakfast octopus” he was eating – something he “didn’t understand.”
- The restaurant where they ate is Lola, a famous upscale eatery in Seattle near Amazon’s offices.
- I visited Lola to try the dish. It left me convinced Bezos’ “breakfast octopus” analogy was not an offhand remark, but something that he had deliberately planned.
Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, now the richest man in the world, is ripe for dissection.
In endless magazine profiles, newspaper articles, blog posts, and books, every episode of the enigmatic Amazon CEO’s life is analyzed. Through them, a portrait of Bezos has emerged: intense, intimidating, curious, relentlessly competitive, and with a biting sense of humor.
But only one of the hundreds of anecdotes I’ve read about him captures my imagination. That of the “breakfast octopus.”
In a 2014 Dallas’ D Magazine profile of Matt Rutledge, who sold his daily-deals e-commerce company, Woot, to Amazon for $110 million in 2010, Rutledge shared the story of his first meeting with Bezos after the deal.
During the breakfast meeting, Rutledge asked Bezos why he bought the company. Bezos famously looked down at his plate and said, “You’re the octopus that I’m having for breakfast … When I look at the menu, you’re the thing I don’t understand, the thing I’ve never had. I must have the breakfast octopus.”
On a recent trip to Seattle, I made a pilgrimage to Seattle restaurant Lola to see what the “breakfast octopus” was all about.
Lola is located in between South Lake Union, a neighborhood so full of Amazon buildings that locals call it Amazonia, and Pike Place Market, Seattle’s most famous landmark after the Space Needle. It’s a seven-minute walk from Bezos’ office at Day One Tower.
From the outside, the restaurant looked somewhere between a casual brunch place to meet with friends and an upscale date night spot.
It looked to be very busy at 10:30 AM on the Thursday before Christmas. When I went inside, I was told that it would be a 30 to 45-minute wait. The restaurant was buzzing.
I had assumed the restaurant would be quiet for breakfast, but it was quickly clear this is not the type of place someone like Bezos would walk in without a reservation.
Since I was by myself, I thought I might sit at the bar. But even that was completely filled up. Besides, I doubted Bezos would ever take a business lunch at the bar.
The hostess told me to wait in the lobby of the adjoining hotel, Hotel Ändra. I decided to read up on Lola. I learned that it was one of the first restaurants of famed chef Tom Douglas. The Mediterranean joint is one of the most enduring and trend-setting restaurants in Seattle’s culinary scene.
South Lake Union, or Amazonia, is littered with Tom Douglas establishments. Most of which, like Assembly Hall, Tanakasan, and Brave Horse Tavern, appeared to be tenants of Amazon-owned buildings.
Source: Tom Douglas
The notorious “breakfast octopus” was the most enticing item on the menu. It was even named “Tom’s Favorite Breakfast” after the chef. The waitress said that it and the Eggs Benedict are by far the most popular dishes. Bezos doesn’t look like the kind of saucy fellow who would order a Benedict.
The dish arrived promptly. It was glorious in its layers of green, yellow, and beige, all topped off with a supple poached egg. But the octopus was nowhere to be found.
I’ll be honest: I was disappointed. I had been expecting a challenge worthy of the mighty Bezos, who had described the dish as “the thing I don’t understand.” I was expecting a great slab of tentacles, ink, and head.
My disappointment evaporated as I cut into the dish and tasted the first morsel of “breakfast octopus.” The rich, saltiness of the poached yolk contrasted perfectly with the earthy-sweet crunch of the leeks and the firm, charred octopus chunks hiding underneath.
The accompanying sourdough bread was toasted to perfection. I dipped it into the garlic Greek yogurt sauce that surrounded the dish. The tangy yet savory yogurt was the only condiment needed. Forget butter, jam, ketchup, and hot sauce.
As I made my way through the hearty breakfast, it seemed impossible that Bezos had never ordered it before his breakfast with Rutledge. It’s a dish worth returning for again and again.
Halfway through my breakfast, I channeled my inner-Bezos and innovated. I began piling on each delicate ingredient onto the sourdough to form an open-faced sandwich.
I took a sip of coffee. The table to my right was talking about vendor agreements, KPIs, a new initiative, and an underperforming colleague. It was a holiday lunch for two mid-level Amazon employees. To my left was a man eating breakfast in front of marked-up Excel spreadsheets. Did everyone work for Amazon?
I was in the homestretch of Tom’s Favorite Breakfast and though I was getting full, I hadn’t tired of the dish. I had just uncovered large tentacles hiding under the potatoes. They too were delicious.
I would have licked the plate clean if it had not breached the standards of propriety. Given what I knew about Bezos and what I now knew about Lola, I wouldn’t be shocked if Bezos anticipated Rutledge’s question about why he had bought Woot and either ordered the octopus as an elaborate joke or had prepared the quip beforehand.
I suppose you don’t become worth $98.6 billion by leaving things to chance. Now, I see a clear message in the tale of the breakfast octopus: This is Jeff’s world. We’re all just living in it.
Update: Matt Rutledge, the founder at the meeting with Bezos said on Twitter he doesn’t “support” my reading of the event. Can’t win ’em all.