Just a month after closing his storied restaurant Sitka & Spruce, prominent Seattle chef Matt Dillon has shuttered his remaining Seattle spot, Bar Ferdinand. While Dillon remains a partner in Pioneer Square spots The London Plane and Copal, this closure represents the James Beard award-winner bowing out of running restaurants of his own in the city, which feels like a seismic shift in Seattle’s shaky restaurant scene.
Dillon cited the ballooning costs of doing business here when he closed Sitka & Spruce after New Year’s Eve — particularly the expenses associated with its lease, as real estate values skyrocket — and spoke of a coming Seattle restaurant “reckoning.” The lease was up, creating a turning point for him: He reevaluated the financial sustainability as if he were opening the restaurant anew, and he didn’t like what he saw. But Dillon calls the closure of Bar Ferdinand “an easier decision to come to,” one more about his own priorities than financial exigencies or alarming changes in the Seattle restaurant industry. Bar Ferdinand’s space was smaller with less expensive rent, he notes. “It was economically not as challenging,” he says.
But “so much of this stuff is about timing,” Dillon observes, and the timing was right for industry veterans chef Eli Dahlin and sommelier Ezra Wicks to take over Bar Ferdinand’s spot in Capitol Hill’s Chophouse Row. Dillon calls them “longtime friends, family and employees of Bar Ferdinand and Sitka & Spruce” — Dahlin was also the opening chef for Damn the Weather (where some still miss his ingenious Caesar salad sandwich), while Wicks was the general manager at La Spiga, around the block from Bar Ferdinand, for eight years. “They had interest in the space and were already a part of it, so this is a natural transition,” Dillon says. “They have a ton of energy… I’m super happy for those guys.”
Dahlin says he and Wicks are already in the process of remodeling and “will be re-opening in late spring as a new wine bar in a refreshed space,” with an adjacent standalone wine shop with charcuterie, cheeses and more.
Meanwhile, Dillon will continue to run his bucolic Old Chaser Farm on Vashon Island, where he raises animals, fruit and vegetables, and also hosts events. “I want to cook rurally, and live in a smaller town, and not deal with the hustle and bustle,” he says, “never mind the economics of Seattle restaurants.” Focusing on Old Chaser, he says, will let him “move into a more creative space with agriculture, and food, and feeding people and stuff … I feel really excited about it.” It’ll also allow him to focus on family. “I’ve been thinking about how much time I want to spend with my wife and kids” — an 8-month-old and an 8-year-old — he says on the phone from Vashon. He laughs: “I was just about to get shot with a Nerf bullet.”
“Life is too short,” Dillon says, “and we’re reminded of that every day.”