Sur La Table, the Seattle-based company that helped make cooking chic before its own fortunes soured, will lay off dozens of corporate employees and may close five retail locations.
On Friday, the company confirmed that 27 employees, or roughly a fifth of the staff at its corporate offices in Georgetown, would be laid off permanently.
“Unfortunately the sustained closure of our stores since March has forced us to make some difficult decisions to right size the organization to align with our current needs,” the company said in a statement Friday.
News of the layoffs was shared with The Seattle Times on Friday by an employee at the corporate office who requested anonymity and said workers were notified of the layoffs Thursday. The separations start July 1 and don’t include severance packages, said the employee, who is among those being laid off.
Sur La Table quickly confirmed the layoffs. In its statement, the company blamed the layoffs on the pandemic; its 130 outlets temporarily shuttered on March 20. Despite “record growth” in online sales, the company said “we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic” at physical locations.
But accounts in the media and from inside the company suggest that some problems at Sur La Table’s brick-and-mortar locations, many of them in malls, predated the pandemic.
Although Sur La Table has had considerable success with online sales and has also done well with a line of in-store cooking schools, “everything else hasn’t been making money for years,” the employee said.
As recently as 2018, when Sur La Table still shared sales data with employees, monthly revenues from physical locations were routinely in the “minus 6 and 7 percent” range, the employee said.
Sur La Table, which was founded in 1972 in Pike Place Market, is among many traditional retailers to struggle in the age of Amazon.
But the company, which was purchased in 2011 by Bahrain-based Investcorp, has also seen frequent changes in senior leadership and strategic direction while carrying out an ambitious expansion plan, the employee said.
Although current CEO Jason Goldberger, who arrived last August, is generally well-regarded in the company, the employee said, there was some skepticism internally about his ability to turn things around. “He knows what he’s doing,” said the employee. “But he’s got a really tough job to do.”
In May, two of Sur La Table’s creditors indicated they had doubts that the company could repay more than $31 million in senior debt.
That led some experts to suggest that the company might be destined either for a sale or bankruptcy.
The company declined to comment Friday on those rumors and said in its statement that it was “on track to re-open all of our stores by July 3rd.”
But Sur La Table is reportedly in discussions with landlords over the terms for several locations and is said to be considering closing five of them, according to an individual who was familiar with those discussions, but did not want to be named.