The end of 2019 saw the Seattle area say goodbye to 20-plus restaurants — about double what we’ve seen for the same time frame during our city’s crazy restaurant boom of recent years. But, then, as we tallied these closures, openings continued unabated: 22 new restaurants in Seattle proper; 17 on the Eastside, up north or elsewhere in the area; four fresh bars on Capitol Hill and in Ballard; and five wine-tasting rooms with food options (including a Champagne bar called House of ‘Pagne!?).
Overall, by the back-of-the-napkin math my colleague Tan Vinh and I have done, 2019 as a whole brought 89 Seattle-area restaurant-and-bar closures. Sounds like a lot, but we also totaled up 395 openings — more than one new place debuting per day. This outstrips 2018, with its 71 closures versus 362 openings.
Clearly, the Seattle restaurant scene is still booming — right? Even this spike of shutdowns makes some sense: If you’re going to get out of the industry, before Jan. 1 is a good time to do it; otherwise, you’re into another tax year. But in about the same amount of time at the end of 2018, there were just four not-so-happy-New-Year closures. Nerves and bottom lines are fraying.
Is the $15 minimum wage killing Seattle restaurants? Short answer: no. But according to many chefs and restaurateurs, it’s a complicated and scary scenario moving into the future — and both big-name and smaller-time owners are closing up shop. Here’s a look at the myriad factors and fears driving the current Seattle-area restaurant industry. And here’s the rundown on the end-of-the-year farewells.
Sitka & Spruce on Capitol Hill: Chef Matt Dillon started out in 2006 in a tiny Eastlake strip-mall space, and the anti-fanciness combined with Dillon’s culinary skill and devotion to Pacific Northwest ingredients to produce magic. Sitka & Spruce moved to bigger digs in Melrose Market in 2010, where costs — particularly, he says, those associated with the lease — ballooned so far that “the math just doesn’t work.” New Year’s Eve was Sitka’s goodbye. Dillon’s Bar Ferdinand, also on Capitol Hill, remains open.
Bramling Cross, Marine Hardware and Super Bueno in Ballard and Fremont: Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell pulled the plug on three of his company’s underperforming places at the end of 2019, calling the trio “challenging from an operational perspective and never … as successful as they need to be.” Bramling Cross and Marine Hardware have become event spaces, while Super Bueno will morph into another edition of Stowell’s popular Tavolàta.
Chungee’s on Capitol Hill: After almost a decade in its funny little spot with the “Being John Malkovich”-style tiny dining room, Chungee’s closed at the end of 2019. Owners Wen Long and Tom Farrell mortgaged their houses to open the place; later, they got married there. In the end, they say, the landlord wanted a month-to-month lease to keep options open; they wanted a longer-term one, in order to make some improvements while having some security. “We feel the time is right to move onto the next chapter!” they wrote on Facebook. “We love each and every one of you!” And, they say, “Stay tuned” — that next chapter could include a comeback elsewhere.
Tallulah’s on Capitol Hill: A year after restaurateur Linda Derschang sold Tallulah’s to Brad Haggen of the family behind the grocery chain, the place is done. Haggen told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog that Tallulah’s “closed due to staffing issues,” but staff say they’re owed back pay after the shutdown came just in time for the holidays.
Perché No in Green Lake: After 27 years in business, starting in Lower Queen Anne, owners David and Lily Kong celebrated their retirement with a final prix fixe dinner in mid-December. “Chef David’s dream was always to build a restaurant from the ground up and the family did just that,” they said — best to them.
Kurt Farm Shop on Capitol Hill: Author, photographer, dairyman and hero of local food Kurt Timmermeister shut down his Chophouse Row artisan ice-cream spot at the end of December, calling it “a great nearly-five years,” but saying, “It’s time for me to retire from ice cream and head back to my dairy farm full time to make cheese and take photographs.” A new ice creamery, Sweet Alchemy, is taking over the space.
Full Tilt Ice Cream on Capitol Hill: Not far away, arcade-and-ice-cream emporium Full Tilt also shut down after just a couple of years in the neighborhood. On Facebook, ownership wrote that contrary to hopes, business just didn’t support the cost of the rent, and that employees would be welcomed to jobs at Full Tilt’s other locations, which remain open.
Big Chickie in Hillman City: Serving Peruvian-style charcoal-roasted rotisserie chicken in a former service station since 2014, Big Chickie closed “with a mix of gratitude and sadness” on Friday, Dec. 13. Owners Matt and Sara Stubbs thanked customers, employees and the landlord on Facebook, saying the decision was made with their daughters in mind. The Flour Box, already popular as a doughnut-and-pastry pop-up, will take over the space.
Lucky Santo in Ballard: After less than a year, this gluten-free and healthy-oriented restaurant in a bit of a far-flung spot is gone, with chef/owner Nikki DeGidio telling Seattle Met that the volume of business at the location just wasn’t sustainable. “I’m so happy we were able to give people some tasty gluten-free memories while we could and shine a little light on a different style of cooking than folks are used to,” she also said.
Stout on Capitol Hill: An early December Facebook post simply says, “Thanks Capitol Hill for five exciting years. Tonight was our last night open for business. We made new friends and we made new memories… Cheers.” And owner Paul Reder simply told CHS that “We needed to be busier more often.” He also mentioned difficulty in finding staff during the ongoing restaurant-workforce shortage, calling the last couple years “the most challenging hiring environment that we’ve ever seen.”
Dao Tai House on Capitol Hill: Despite fans, including my colleague David Gutman, this Northeastern Chinese place didn’t last much longer than a year … and yet another restaurant is already set to move into the awkward former Octo Sushi space.
Añejo Restaurant and Tequila Bar on Capitol Hill: After a year and a half on the north end of Broadway, Añejo has closed with a note in the windows thanking patrons and saying they’d “enjoyed every minute … but made the difficult decision to sell in order to focus more on our south end restaurant, Viva Mexico.”
The Grizzled Wizard in Wallingford: After exactly a decade as “The Most Extreme Dive in the Multiverse™,” The Grizz (as they called it) called it quits on New Year’s Eve, saying on Facebook, “It’s been a great run and it was our pleasure being here for you. It’s no exaggeration to say that we have the best goddamn customers … many of whom are practically family to the staff and to each other.” Bright side: Korochka Tavern, formerly of Lake City, will take over the space.
NW Peaks Brewery in Ballard: After a decade in business, the Ballard location of NW Peaks has closed, with the owner giving thanks and noting on Facebook that “This will afford me the time and energy to rekindle … other passions, like getting (mentally) lost in the mountains.” The newer Hillman City branch remains open.
Fitzgerald’s Sports Bar in Ballard: My Ballard reports this place shut down suddenly around Dec. 20, with signs saying, “Closed until further notice” and “Thanks for the patronage,” with no further info to be found at this time.
Chongqing Noodles in the University District: Open only since summertime on the Ave, this noodle spot is already gone.
Pie in Fremont: After nine years, Pie’s owners wrote on Facebook, “The time has come for Pie to close as you know it … We appreciate your support, we have loved serving up pie for all these years. It’s hard to believe we won’t have another Pi Day to prepare for!” The shop and the Pie truck are both for sale.
May Restaurant and Lounge in Wallingford: Open since 2006 — with original owner May Chaleoy departing along the way to run Vashon’s May Kitchen + Bar, which remains open (and good!) — this Thai place closed up suddenly in November. However, Sisi Kay Thai has already opened in the space.
Bar Ciudad in Georgetown: This closure’s apparently temporary — ownership says that after interior changes, this spot will reopen in March with “a new identity.”
Pagliacci on Broadway: Call it closed/not closed — this longtime branch of the local pizza chain is gone, but the new Capitol Hill location on Pike is already open (and Pac-Man will be in the house).