Teatro ZinZanni, the iconic neo-cirque dinner theater known for its multicolored spiegeltent and its elaborate shows, will abandon plans for a permanent facility at the old Redhook Brewery in Woodinville and suspend operations until the pandemic is over.
Co-owners Norm and Jane Langill, who announced the news on Friday, said COVID-19 has killed the market for live performance and forced the couple to rethink a costly new venue at the 20-acre site that was supposed to open in time for the holidays.
But Norm Langill, who founded Teatro ZinZanni in 1998 near the Seattle Center, acknowledged that the company was struggling financially before the pandemic. That was due mainly to problems at an upscale stand-alone restaurant, known as the Wheelhouse, which the Langills opened last year in the old Redhook pub.
The Teatro ZinZanni “show was running just fine, but the restaurant had just started up and it was not running as we’d hoped,” said Norm Langill in a phone interview Friday. The Wheelhouse, operated on a limited capacity this summer, closed permanently this month.
The theater company, which is formally known as TZ Woodinville, laid off 135 employees in March, and has continued with a staff of 5. “This really is a survival move by us so that we can we can continue on,” said Jane Langill of the decision to leave the Woodinville facility and put much of the company’s equipment into storage.
David Yuchasz, one of TZ Woodinville’s landlords at the Woodinville site and an investor in the Langills’ venue project, said the theater company stopped making lease and loan payments after June.
Yuchasz, who was also a landlord of ZinZanni’s administrative offices in Interbay before the theater company left Seattle in 2018, said TZ Woodinville owed “close to a million dollars” to a list of vendors largely as a result of its problems at the Wheelhouse.
Friday’s announcement marks the latest twist in the theater company’s long-running struggle to find a permanent home.
In early 2017, the theater announced it would leave its location near the Seattle Center because the Seattle Opera, which owned the property, was selling it.
After a successful but temporary stint at Marymoor Park in Redmond, ZinZanni struck a deal to move to Woodinville, where Yuchasz and other investors had recently purchased the Redhook Brewery for $24.5 million. Redhook owner Craft Brew Alliance ceased operations of the 22-year-old brewery in 2017.
Teatro ZinZanni was “at the forefront of my mind when this property came up,” Yuchasz told The Seattle Times when the deal was announced. “I honestly felt like the stars had kind of aligned. They needed a home. Zoning allowed them to be here year-round. The Eastside was already proven for them at this point.”
The move to Woodinville meant Teatro ZinZanni could consolidate its performance, wardrobe, and other facilities, which had been scattered around the Seattle area, and create a headquarters for an operation with national aspirations.
In September 2018, the company announced it was expanding to Chicago in 2019 — its first location outside the West Coast. The company also has plans for a venue in San Francisco, where it has operated periodically since 2000.
Woodinville gave the theater company access to a ready-made site for a standalone restaurant. But even as the theater operations prospered — one former employee said the dinner theater routinely played to “packed houses” — the upscale restaurant never took off. “It was more white tablecloth than the community and the normal patrons wanted,” Norm Langill said. “People missed the old Redhook pub.”
The Langills said they “reversed course” on the restaurant in early 2020, but soon after that, “COVID came along and put a torpedo in the whole thing,” Norm said. The theater company was unable to continue making lease or loan payments after exhausting a federal Paycheck Protection loan of just over $1 million, Norm said.
During interviews Friday, the Langills and Yuchasz disputed several details about the Woodinville project, notably, which side had decided to pull the plug on the enterprise in the end.
But both sides agree that TZ Woodinville will vacate the premises by the end of September.
“I just want to move on and lease the spot to someone else,” Yuchasz said Friday.
The Langells also struck a philosophical note. “It’s the end of a frustrating, disappointing but otherwise pretty wonderful time here,” Jane Langill said. “So, we are trying not to diss anybody on the way out and we will express gratitude to the community in the time that we’ve had.”
The former Redhook brewery still has several other tenants, including Sparkman Cellars and DeLille Cellars, said Yuchasz, who estimated that Teatro ZinZanni took up about a third of the property.