Canlis, Seattle’s premier fine dining institution, announced Thursday morning that, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, it will suspend fine dining operations indefinitely, but start a drive-thru burger joint in their parking lot, a pop-up bagel shop, and an at-home dinner delivery service.
The decision was made late Wednesday night after “watching the headlines and sensing the tenor of the city,” Mark Canlis said in an interview with The Seattle Times on Thursday morning.
“We looked at one another and said I’m not sure fine dining has a place right now in Seattle, but they might still need us. Regardless of what happens, everybody has got to eat,” said Canlis, who, co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Brian.
This comes on the heels of Seattle restaurant titan Tom Douglas’ Wednesday night announcement that 12 of his 13 restaurants will close temporarily because of the novel coronavirus. Douglas’ shocking news came after Gov. Jay Inslee’s order Wednesday morning that banned gatherings of more than 250 people across three counties.
Both moves had bearing on the decision made by the Canlis brothers — Mark and Brian, the third generation of their family to run the restaurant — to launch a new business model tailored to this uncertain time.
The coronavirus has hit Seattle’s restaurant industry hard, and consequently, thousands of service industry workers are struggling. Earlier this week, several restaurants announced their closures due to the drop in business caused by the global pandemic, and Douglas’ closure of 12 of his restaurants means that hundreds of his employees are now out of work. That is something Canlis is trying to prevent.
By reorganizing their operation to better suit the current climate — many people are working from home, and big social gatherings have been discouraged — the Canlis brothers hope they’ll be able to keep their 114-person staff employed, figure out how to contribute to the city’s needs and weather out the coronavirus pandemic.
“The game is not over. This thing isn’t done. It’s just that the rules changed,” Mark Canlis said. “We have a choice to lean into the fear or say, ‘No, we got this. We can do this thing.’
“I think today and yesterday [were] really important moments for us as a city. I think Seattle is leading the country and the country is looking to us, like, ‘Hey, Seattle, what is it like?’ To me this is Canlis saying, ‘Hell yes we can do this, and we’re going to do it with burgers and bagels.”
So on Thursday morning, an email went out announcing the change to all patrons who had reservations at the restaurant. The Canlis brothers and their staff are also making personal phone calls to all reservation holders.
The restaurant’s website now has a new splash page announcing “The Bagel Shed,” “Drive on Thru burgers,” and “Family Meal, Delivered.”
“We were born to be a drive-thru. After 70 years it’s finally coming to our senses, it’s letting our inner freeway out,” Mark Canlis said.
The lunchtime drive-thru service opens next Monday and will operate from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., offering burgers, veggie melts, the Canlis salad and ice cream sandwiches. The breakfast bagel shed will open next Tuesday and run from 8-11 a.m., offering a variety of bagels, breakfast sandwiches and coffee. Finally, beginning Wednesday, they’ll also offer a dinner-time delivery service staffed by Canlis employees that offers a rotating daily menu to bring you “home-cooked dinner and a bottle of wine on your doorstep” from 6-8 p.m. All three services will run Monday thru Friday.
“This allows my team to work in a safer environment and it allows us to feed so many more people. So many restaurants can do this and maybe it would be encouraging to them if we did it,” Mark Canlis said.
As of now, there is no end date for this change in service.
“We’re going to do this for as long as we have to,” Mark Canlis said. “That could be a few weeks, that could be way, way longer. … We’re in. … I just wanted a way that no matter how bad it gets, we could continue to stay turned toward the city and in a sustainable way that has our staff working and doing something.”