The new coronavirus outbreak has made it tough going for restaurants in the Seattle area. In a week filled with restaurant closures, acclaimed chef Ethan Stowell said Friday night that he has laid off about 40% of his workforce.
About 125 to 150 servers, dishwashers, cooks and hosts at his 15 restaurants in Seattle were given notice, Stowell said.
Stowell said he has met with as many employees at each restaurant as possible to give them the bad news in person.
“It is tough. The last couple of days have been the toughest of my career. A lot of tears, man. You don’t like to lay anybody off. Even if it is the best option at the time, it feels awful,” Stowell said in a phone interview about an hour after his last round of staff meetings.
Stowell said sales were down around 25% at his neighborhood restaurants in Ballard, Queen Anne and Capitol Hill.
Worse, sales nose-dived around 75% at Cortina downtown and Tavolata in Belltown, both of which rely heavily on the Amazon workforce and office workers who have all since started working remotely at the urging of health authorities as a safety precaution.
Stowell was all set to open another Italian restaurant downtown before the outbreak.
“Tavolata in downtown is ready to open but there’s no reason to open when we know it’s dead,” around that area, he said.
The announcement comes three days after his friend, celebrity chef Tom Douglas closed 12 of his 13 restaurants and laid off around 800 employees. Douglas vows he will reopen all those restaurants when people start dining out again.
Stowell opted to keep all his restaurants open “because it would make it harder to start up again” if he were to close even for a couple of months.
Instead, he will work with a skeleton crew and shut his doors earlier in the evening until business returns to normal – however long that takes, he said.
“We will survive this,” he said. “They have to come back at some point.”