Canlis, the storied Seattle restaurant that has built a decades-long reputation for outstanding service and hospitality, has been named a finalist in that category for the prestigious James Beard Awards.
The James Beard Awards is one of the restaurant industry’s highest honors, and finalists for the 2020 awards were announced on Monday via a Twitter live broadcast.
In the regional category, chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of Joule were named finalists for “Best Chef in the Northwest and Pacific.” In perhaps the biggest surprise, Heliotrope Architects in Ballard made the finalist cut for “Outstanding Restaurant Design,” (in the 75 seats and under category) for its work on the Sri Lankan- and Indian-inspired Rupee Bar in Ballard.
Earlier in February, Oriental Mart, a hidden counter located in the back of a grocery store at Pike Place Market, was honored as one of six restaurants nationally to win the “America’s Classics Award” this year.
No one in Seattle, though, has racked up more James Beard honors and nominations than Canlis. Last year, chef Brady Williams won Best Chef Northwest, and Canlis also won the Design Icon Award, with the judging panel praising the restaurant’s “warmly modern” style that “epitomizes the period’s Northwest Modern movement.” In 2017, the Canlis brothers took home the award for “Outstanding Wine Program.”
According to the Canlis family, this is its fourth nomination for outstanding service. “This is the highest honor for us. Hospitality, service — this is an award about people, about caring for one another,” Mark Canlis said.
Canlis’ acclaimed servers are renowned for remembering not only patrons’ names but also recalling, say, the pinot noir from the Willamette Valley that you might have had on your last visit. And of course, there’s Canlis’ famous valet parking, where customers don’t get a ticket or number, but their cars always appear out front just as they are ready to leave.
In the lead-up to 2019’s James Beard Awards, our food writer Bethany Jean Clement got to experience first-hand what it’s like to be a server at Canlis when she worked there for a night for this story.
This year, Canlis is up against:
- Brigtsen’s, New Orleans
- Saison, San Francisco
- Swan Oyster Depot, San Francisco
- Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, MI
The winners will be announced on Sept. 25 in Chicago.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the award that has become the Oscar’s of the restaurant world. The James Beard Foundation named the semifinalists in Feb. 26, but with the coronavirus spreading through the U.S., the awards got postponed as the hospitality industry focused on its own survival.
However, last week, the foundation posted a letter, explaining that it was only fair that every James Beard Award winner gets a “chance to have their moment in the spotlight.”
“Those we consulted felt the Awards could also offer a glimmer of hope to an industry looking for light in a very dark time,” the foundation said in a released statement.
Besides the notoriety and resume booster, the perk of being a James Beard winner — or even a semifinalist or runner up — usually includes a bump in business for nominees But not this year.
Last year, Mitch Mayer of Sawyer in Ballard, saw a 40% increase in business after his Ballard bistro was named semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant” in America. This year, Mayer was named semifinalist for top chef in the Northwest but saw no uptick in reservations due to the pandemic that led to the dining-room shutdown across the state. He’s trying to do takeouts to pay the bills, while awaiting the day when the state will allow him to reopen his restaurant.
The nomination is a bigger deal to many newcomers who are trying to make a name for themselves. Talented brewer Steve Luke scored one of the biggest honors of his career when James Beard foundation named him a semifinalist for “Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Producer” in February. Now, he, too, is fighting to save his small brewery near Pike Place Market. He focuses mostly on beer sales out of Cloudburst’s tasting room and keg sales to Seattle bars. With those revenues down the drain during this pandemic, Luke has rented a “mobile canning line” and started hawking four-packs to make payroll.
Meanwhile, Canlis, the restaurant best known for its outstanding service, is also doing delivery and waiting out the stay-home order. Canlis started the dining-room shutdown period by temporarily doing drive-thru service out of its parking lot.
In the best chef in the Northwest and Pacific category, nearly all the Seattle chefs were shut out while four Portland chefs made the cut. Despite being nominated six times, Joule chef Yang said the nomination was still a surprise considering most finalists are usually new or up-and-coming restaurants. Joule has been around for 12 years. “It’s an honor that people still remember us,” Yang said.
This year, Yang and Chirchi of Joule are up against:
- Peter Cho, Han Oak, Portland
- Gregory Gourdet, Departure, Portland
- Chris Kajioka and Anthony Rush, Senia, Honolulu
- Katy Millard, Coquine, Portland
- Kristen Murray, MÅURICE, Portland