The tumultuous week for Seattle’s restaurants continued Saturday, as James Beard Award-winning chef Renee Erickson announced the temporary closure of three of her restaurants due to the novel coronavirus.
Bistro Shirlee, The Whale Wins and Barnacle will close temporarily effective immediately “in response to coronavirus-related declines in business,” Erickson’s Sea Creatures ownership group announced in a news release Saturday afternoon.
These temporary closures come after previously announced reductions in operating hours across the 20 businesses under the Sea Creatures group. Erickson said her remaining restaurants will start focusing more on takeout and deliveries to make up for the lost revenue as a result of the coronavirus outbreak that has left many of her restaurants half-empty.
About 70 employees (cooks, bartenders, servers and dishwashers) from 20 restaurants were given notice — approximately 25% of Erickson’s workforce. Officials from Sea Creatures also reported that her other restaurants — even crown jewels like the high-performing The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard and Bateau on Capitol Hill — would be condensing their daily operating hours due to low sales.
Laid-off staff have been directed on how to file for unemployment and given options on how to maintain their health insurance.
Erickson is the latest in the long line of Seattle’s restaurant luminaries who, despite their big names, could not hang on to their businesses in this climate. In the last three days, acclaimed chef Tom Douglas announced he was temporarily closing 12 of his 13 restaurants and laying off about 800 employees. Chef Ethan Stowell on Friday night announced he was laying off about 40% of his workforce and running with a skeleton crew to make ends meet.
In the past two weeks, nearly 70 restaurants and bars have either closed temporarily or permanently as fewer people eat out. According to restaurant reservations site OpenTable.com, which keeps data based on guest reservations, 63% fewer restaurant reservations were made in Seattle this past Friday night, compared to the same time frame in 2019.
“It is not a decision we made lightly. It’s a move we’re making out of necessity,” Erickson said in the statement. “Guests are doing what our officials have asked them to do: they’re working from home; they’re staying home and avoiding gathering in public.
“We totally understand. Still, it has been absolutely heart-wrenching to let employees go. Everyone is just gutted. It is a really challenging time to be in the hospitality industry.”
Sea Creatures intends to reopen Bistro Shirlee, The Whale Wins and Barnacle, but no date has been announced.
Erickson pleaded with locals to support not just hers but other restaurants across the city in these trying times.
“Come visit us, please, or give us a call. We are doing a lot more takeout currently, as you would imagine. We will be partnering with a delivery service in the coming days as well. We are doing everything we can think of to avoid further layoffs.”