Tom Douglas, one of Seattle’s most well-known chefs, will temporarily close 12 of his restaurants, effective Sunday, his spokesperson said Wednesday evening.
Sales at Douglas’ restaurants have declined up to 90% since the coronavirus outbreak, and spokesperson Madeline Dow Pennington said Wednesday night that executives have “spent hours over the last two days analyzing every single model to keep our team whole, and unfortunately this is the only outcome that made the most sense.”
Effective after dinner service on March 15, 12 of Douglas’ 13 restaurants will close, but management hopes to reopen within “eight to 12 weeks” if the market conditions improve, Pennington said.
Dahlia Bakery will remain open because it has a contract with Hotel Ändra across the street, Pennington said.
“I am sad for our city. It’s tough going for Seattle now,” Douglas said in a phone interview with The Seattle Times on Wednesday night. “I am optimistic [that] at the end of the day, in eight to 12 weeks, we will be back at it.”
Douglas said he plans to re-open all his restaurants but stressed that specific re-opening dates will be contingent on when Amazon and other companies’ workers will feel safe enough to return to their offices and start eating out again.
The Douglas company employs about 800 workers. Many servers and cooks were told they would be laid off, then human resources provided them with directions on how to file for unemployment. A spokesperson said Wednesday night that the company “will contact everybody on a case-by-case basis” as to when they might be called back when the restaurants reopen.
Douglas said he can’t afford to pay severance, but vows to rehire all his employees when he re-opens his restaurants.
The news is a stunning development for the most celebrated chef in Seattle. Douglas has won three James Beard awards: Best Northwest Chef in 1994, Best Cookbook in 2001 for “Seattle Kitchen” and “Outstanding Restaurateur” in 2012 — the last of which several of Douglas’ close friends say is his proudest achievement.
“This is a hard and sad time for us in the restaurant industry,” said restauranteur Ethan Stowell. “It’s a big blow for us as a community. It makes me sad for Tom and his team. I’m stunned and heartbroken.”
Although Douglas shut down TanakaSan, Home Remedy and Assembly Hall inside Via6 apartments earlier this year, he is still one of the region’s biggest draws. When Nordstrom wanted to make a big splash in New York, the company recruited Douglas to open two restaurants in its new seven-story department store, located at West 57th Street and Broadway near Columbus Circle.
However, at home in Seattle, Douglas’ management team said sales nosedived after local health officials urged employees to work from home and Amazon’s employees complied, which hurt sales for lunch and happy hour especially.
Douglas’ announcement came on the heels of Gov. Jay Inslee’s order Wednesday morning that in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, the state will ban gatherings of more than 250 people in three different counties.
That affected Douglas’ sales because Inslee’s proclamation effectively shut down events at the Paramount and Moore theaters, where Douglas has the contract to serve food and drinks.
“It’s very shocking to hear that because everyone who has been with Tom knows he has a stable business,” said Nate Crave, a former chef who worked for Douglas at Palace Kitchen and has since retired from the restaurant business. “Most people that I know have worked with Tom for 10, 15, 18 years. Restaurant wise, that is loyalty right there. Most of the people I chatted with were just in shock.”
At least one former employee, Kary Wayson, took to Twitter to express her shock and dismay Wednesday night, tweeting “just got laid off for the first time in my life. The chef I work for owns 13 restaurants in Seattle, and he’s closing all of them for the next two months at least. Surreal.” (Wayson did not immediately return a message seeking further comment.)
Douglas’ spokesperson said this was “obviously, an extremely difficult decision to make” and that “it was one we needed to make suddenly” to put the company on a better financial footing so it can reopen later.
The 12 restaurants that will close are: Brave Horse Tavern and Cuoco in South Lake Union; Cantina Leña, Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola’s and Serious Pie in Belltown; Serious Pie & Biscuit in Westlake; The Carlile Room downtown; Etta’s, Seatown Market Diner and Rub with Love Shack at Pike Place.