When a James Beard award-winning chef judges his influential, beloved first restaurant no longer sustainable, it feels like the Seattle scene is suddenly going sideways, and here we are: Matt Dillon has announced he’ll close Sitka & Spruce after New Year’s Eve service at the end of this year.
Dillon started the restaurant in 2006 in a tiny Eastlake strip-mall space. The place’s anti-fanciness combined with Dillon’s culinary instincts and his devotion to Pacific Northwest ingredients to produce magic, and the city and beyond took notice. Sitka & Spruce moved to bigger digs in Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market in 2010, with Dillon winning James Beard Best Chef Northwest in 2012. Last year, Sitka & Spruce appeared on The Seattle Times list of “10 Essential Seattle Restaurants” lauded (by me) as “revelatory and revolutionary, advance notice of how we eat today.”
Dillon’s heartfelt announcement of the closure read, in part, “At this mesmerizing juncture of our world, continuing Sitka’s relationship in Seattle does not make me a better father, partner, activist, employer or friend. And that is the future. To be better.” Reached by phone, he talked about a Seattle that’s very different from when he started Sitka & Spruce on a shoestring. “In order to buy great product and pay a great wage that people can live on in our city … the math just doesn’t work,” he said. With the lease up on the Melrose Market space, he says he considered renewing it as if he was opening up a new business, and that it looked like “a grave risk.”
Dillon sees creative bright spots in the Seattle restaurant scene, pointing to the work of chef Sun Hong at his eight-seat By Tae and to chef Edouardo Jordan‘s Ravenna trio Salare, JuneBaby and Lucinda. (Jordan cooked at Sitka & Spruce, then became chef de cuisine at Dillon’s now-closed Bar Sajor before launching his own dual-James Beard-awarded enterprises.) And Dillon will carry on with his other Capitol Hill restaurant, Bar Ferdinand, as well as his Vashon Island farm, Old Chaser. He also has a financial stake in several other Seattle spots. But he doesn’t mince words about what he sees coming for the local restaurant industry. “There’s gonna be a reckoning, big-time,” he says. “I don’t think it’s gonna be pretty.”