Plenty of new bars and restaurants have opened around here since the beginning of the year — as in 23 Seattle debuts; 31 openings on the Eastside, up north and down south; a microbrewery and four new wine-tasting rooms hither and yon; and, back to the Eastside again, two virtual-golf-plus-full-service-restaurant combos (because one isn’t enough!?), plus a barbecue spot, and something called Crush Bar. In the same time frame, 18 places have closed — not a lot by comparison, yet the particulars of some of the shutdowns speak to what many insiders are calling troubling turmoil in the restaurant industry.
The big shocker so far this young year: James Beard award-winning chef Matt Dillon shut down his restaurant Bar Ferdinand just a month after he closed his original endeavor, Sitka & Spruce. It feels like a pivotal moment when one of the city’s best chefs drops out of the restaurant industry entirely, but Dillon says this decision isn’t about the increasing difficulties of doing business here — primarily, he notes, costs associated with rent, not the minimum wage — but about realizing life is short and family should be primary. He promises he’ll keep cooking for parties and private events at his Old Chaser Farm on Vashon Island, and meanwhile, two industry vets will open a new restaurant in Bar Ferdinand’s Capitol Hill space this spring.
Restaurants have had it rough in South Lake Union, where Amazon workers love lunch and can get behind a happy hour, but tend to dematerialize at dinnertime. It’s no surprise that Maslow’s, with its huge space and upscalish menu (and, sigh, excellent Impossible Burger), couldn’t make a go of it there. But it is sad: This was one of the places run by the excellent local nonprofit FareStart, which provides restaurant job training and other resources for those who’ve experienced homelessness here. “It’s a tough neighborhood, for full service, anyway,” FareStart CEO Angela Stowell notes, though the organization closed its counter-service (but also problematically huge) Community Table there about a year ago, too. “FareStart is in great shape — this is no reflection on the mission or the work we’re doing,” she says, so that’s good. They’ll keep the kitchen — provided by Amazon, for which Stowell professes much gratitude — to continue doing “a ton of catering business.”
In one of the quickest shutdowns maybe ever, Ballard Italian restaurant Valentinetti’s debuted in October and was dark by mid-January. The spot, which was supposed to eventually have puppet shows (poor sad puppets!), had formerly been the Hi-Life, also run by Chow Foods. About the closure, the website said, “in conceptualizing Valentinetti’s, we clearly mis-read what the dining public is seeking.” They’re looking for someone to assume the lease, according to owner Peter Levy, who succinctly says, “I be so done with Ballard.” The other Chow Foods restaurants — including Americana favorite The 5 Spot — carry on.
A slower death-by-reconception befell the Central District upscale barbecue spot Central Smoke. It’d opened in 2014 as the steakhouse 7 Beef; the owners say that in 2018, “the unforgiving economics of the Seattle restaurant scene compelled us to pivot … to the more casual Central Smoke.” Thanking everyone involved, they intend to now focus on their other restaurants — longtime favorites Monsoon, Monsoon East and the various Ba Bars.
Linda Derschang’s hoping for a more successful overhaul of her Belltown place, Queen City. After taking over the historical spot in September 2018, she closed it last month, and the new plan is to install a neighborhood bar along the lines of Linda’s and King’s Hardware. Derschang says she’d heard people felt Queen City was “a little too fancy,” and that “honestly, an uneven kitchen made things a challenge.”
Another reboot that’s already happened in Green Lake: Owner John Schmidt closed his branch of Lunchbox Lab in mid-January, replacing it with the resurrection of the place he ran there before Lunchbox Lab, Greenlake Bar & Grill.
The beloved, decades-old Attic Alehouse in Madison Park shut down suddenly early this month, leaving fans like Seattle Times reader Zach “super-sad.” The only clue about the closure was a note on the door reading, “As many of you know, Mark Long, former owner of The Attic, passed away over a year ago. Since that time his family has been operating the business. They abruptly and permanently closed on Monday 2/3. This came as a surprise to all — including their employees. Future plans are unknown.” Sorry, everybody — it’s indeed super sad to suddenly lose a job and/or a favorite neighborhood place.
Here’s a noteworthy shutdown/takeover: Seattle restaurant titan Tom Douglas has closed his upscale-student-union-style TanakaSan, Assembly Hall and Home Remedy that he opened in the spring of 2013 in Belltown’s Via6 apartment complex, telling Puget Sound Business Journal, “We are very proud of each of our operations at Via6 and gave it our all.” Now other Seattle restaurant titan Ethan Stowell confirms he has already signed on to open a new establishment or two in the same space, presumably to give them his all. Is it me or are things getting really weird?
Less odd, but still a little confusing: Meg’s Hamburgers in Pioneer Square is gone, but the owners of the BottleNeck Lounge and Two Doors Down will have it up and running as a second version of the latter soon. With hamburgers. Still. OK!
After eight years as a Columbia City favorite, La Teranga has closed. As my erstwhile colleague Tyrone Beason wrote in 2016, chef “Mamadou Diakhate manages to do wonders in the limited space he has to work with [at his] sliver of a restaurant … that turns out excellent West African fare inspired by his native Senegal.” Good news, though: Their voicemail promises to keep us posted on a new location, and meanwhile, they’re still doing catering. And Eater Seattle reports that a new restaurant called Off Alley, from the Fowl & Offal pop-up, is already set to move in.
All right, best take this to a lightning round: It appears JoyFish out on Aurora — which my colleague Tan Vinh and I quite enjoyed — is no more. PhinneyWood reports Sushi Naomi in Greenwood is gone. A reader named Joan tells us Mio Sushi in South Lake Union and Daily Grill have both closed, which Yelp confirms (and given their ratings there, neither shutdown seems surprising). My Ballard reports Brunswick & Hunt is done there. And Capitol Hill Seattle says Aloha Cup Bap has closed its location there, as well as the one in the Central District.
In closed/not closed news, Georgetown’s Nashville hot-chicken favorite Sisters and Brothers shuts down on Feb. 24 but will return as soon as early March in full hot-force, taking over the nearby Sneaky Tiki restaurant space. And in the department of fair warning: If you love the Red Door, get over there and drink up — they’ve announced they’ll be closing March 8. Cheers to owner Pete Hanning and his crew.