Capitol Hill Qdoba’s closure a bad sign for Broadway’s ‘limited-service restaurant’ retail mix

Protesters targeting the fast food industry targeted the Joule's tenant this spring (Image: CHS)

Protesters targeting the fast food industry targeted the Joule’s tenant this spring (Image: CHS)

It appears Larita Mcfall will lose her job at Broadway’s Qdoba after all — but it won’t be because of what the Qdoba employee said in May as protesters targeted the Broadway restaurant during a day of marches against the fast food industry.

The “Mexican grill” concept chain announced Monday it will close three locations in the Seattle area — including Broadway:

We’re sorry to announce that this Wednesday, July 3, we will be permanently closing our Capitol Hill, Rainier and Kirkland locations at 3 p.m. It has been great serving you, and we thank you for your patronage at these restaurants. We’re still serving up your favorites at our other Puget Sound area locations. We look forward to seeing you at one of these Qdoba restaurants in the near future!

While it is *only* one restaurant, Qdoba’s struggle could represent a bad sign for the current mix of restaurants and retail on Broadway. A recent study commissioned by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce showed that “limited-service restaurants” have grown to represent 28% of the retail mix on Broadway — up from 20% in 2007 and now representing the single largest segment in the retail core.

The closure is also a blow to The Joule building’s retail mix where Mod Pizza, another “limited-service” player, is apparently looking for an exit with this listing for a sub-lease of the space:

Terrific retail or restaurant end cap in new Joule Project. Low sublease rate. Fixtures & equipment negotiable if desired. Please do not discuss with employees – call listing agent for details. Mod continues their aggressive growth in other markets.

The Joule faced challenges filling its north Broadway retail spaces, eventually going with a national yoga studio chain for its anchor tenant space. We’ll keep an eye on what second-generation uses evolve in the Joule. The space left by the building’s first restaurant casualty, Saizen Sushi, has yet to be re-filled.

Meanwhile, the latest moves from the likes of Linda Derschang to add investments in the “full-service” restaurant space on Broadway and for others like Gregg Holcomb to blaze some new territory on the strip might be coming at just the right time.

50 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Qdoba’s closure a bad sign for Broadway’s ‘limited-service restaurant’ retail mix

  1. That is too bad. The only upside is that I will probably lose 5-10 pounds almost immediately with the place closing.

  2. Gee. What a surprise.

    The Joule has these god awful huge expensive spaces that only large chains can afford to fill and guess what? Nobody but tourists want to go to chains. Chains don’t add to the community. And the community just routes around them.

    You see this same issue all over the Hill and all over Seattle. Look at all these huge retail spaces? Who is going afford those? Look at the number banks moving to the Hill. Nobody else can rent these expensive massive spaces.

    The result is ugly institutional/enterprise sized businesses that don’t build community that nobody is interested in being a part of or utilizing. So inevitably these big corporate businesses have to flee. Blight ensues.

    So hint to developers: Stop being greedy assholes. Stop building huge retail spaces.

    We need more, smaller, affordable spaces and you will see local businesses that will have longer shelf lives in them and you will fit into the community.

    I won’t hold my breath.

    • Amen. My only quibble is that we should stop just hinting to developers, and start enforcing some regulations to make sure our city is designed for human beings, and not sterile enterprise.

    • “Chains don’t add to the community. And the community just routes around them.

      ===> Starbucks, QFC, Safeway are doing just fine.

      “We need more, smaller, affordable spaces and you will see local businesses that will have longer shelf lives in them and you will fit into the community.”

      ===> A few smaller restaurants on Broadway folded in the past year too.

      • Well. Of course the risk is there in any small business. Most will fail. But developers aren’t making it any easier for small businesses to succeed by charging outrageous rents. You want as diverse an economic base as possible and big banks and big chain fast-food will never pride that.

        More importantly is large chains rarely build community. People are not excited about going to Starbucks or QFC. Nor do those chains foster community (book groups, poetry readings, art shows, social clubs, etc) nor do they become iconic parts of a neighborhood identity. They are first and foremost their own profit seeking brands generic to any location anywhere.

    • The zoning code requires the retail. Before Joule was built there was empty retail as well if you recall. It was a desolate unused block.

      • I’m pretty sure there was the QFC, Bartell and TacoBell on the block before the Joule. I don’t remember it ever being desolate (unless you count the months before they broke ground where the businesses had moved out by then).

        • The old QFC building, which comprised the majority of that block, was closed and fenced off for several years prior to the construction of the Joule. So, yes, it was a desolate block for quite some time.

    • I wonder if someone could realize the possibility of splitting the space into some sort of food court or something. Maybe something like what Geogy Chacko did on 5th Ave in Belltown, except with food and service that aren’t complete shit.

  3. I think its a sign of overpriced Broadway! Broadway is a “has-been” area for many years. If food concepts like Mod Pizza and Qdoba want to make it in those huge rent spaces then there will need to be a line out their door every day! My guess is both mod pizza and Qdoba pay between 7k and 8k per month in rent. That means in order for them to be a sustainable business they would have to be pumping at least $95,000 per month in sales.

    Not happening! Listen up Broadway, you’re only worth $19-25 SF/YR. You had your glory days, must have been love but it’s over now, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey goodbye!

    • I’ve lived near Broadway for 35 years and so I know the street well…there have been many changes, but through the years Broadway has never been a street with great restaurants, with a few notable exceptions, such as Altura now (wonderful, but expensive). In my opinion, the reason is simple…the demographics are dominated by young, unsophisticated (food-wise), relatively poor people who can’t afford better places. But this seems to be slowly changing in recent years, with the often-hated “gentrification” of our neighborhood (I happen to think this is a good thing).

  4. BTW. I give that Yoga place maybe a 15 months. Because god knows what Capitol Hill and Seattle needed was another Yoga studio. It won’t matter how good or how cheap or how cool the Yoga is there. It will never be able to sustain the growth necessary to make a profit.

    What do these people think? In the future of Capitol Hill we will all design each other websites in exchange for Yoga lessons, checking accounts, and niche desserts. Because that is apparently that is the economic model.

  5. Excuse me if I don’t lament the closing of another chain restaurant with no local ties. I can think of at least a couple of Mexican places within walking distance where the food is 100 times more authentic, the service 100 times better, and the ownership 100 times closer to home.

    • The Mexican truck on Broadway and Union, directly across the street from Qdoba, is my favorite. Delicious, large portions, friendly staff and low prices. Highly recommended!

    • I agree with you 100% Nah. You can walk one block and/or another flight of stairs and get a very good meal for very close to the same price as the crap burritos at Qdoba.

  6. The Seattle Qdoba closings are part of a larger wave of Qdoba closings. The Chicago area just lost at least 13 last week. The whole chain is not doing well and the parent company (Jack in the Box) are pulling back. Wouldn’t be surprised of the brand vanishes in another year or so,

    • Not completely accurate, Qdoba has a new President of operations and he came in and saw that the old philosophy of never closing a store even if It was not profitable was not working, big surprise there! So naturally it makes sense to close all stores nationwide that are not making money. Qdoba has plans to expand in other areas of the country where they are quiet successful. Qdoba will be around for long time to come, it is just that now they will be located in areas that allow them to be successful. There are many other Qdoba locations in the Seattle area that are doing very well. Qdoba is simply positioning itself to more effectively take on Chipolte. Remember that Chipolte is owned by McDonalds and they are hurting financially as well so look for much of the same from Chipolte in the coming years. This has nothing to do with Jack in the box, I should know, I work for Qdoba and assure you that we will be around a very long time to come

      • Chipotle is *not* owned by McDonald’s. They had invested in Chipotle as part of an effort to head off the new “fast casual” movement, but McDonalds gave up on that strategy & divested long ago.

        Chipotle is several cuts above Qdoba in terms of quality, not even close …imo, Chipotle is the best by far of so-called fast casual food. No surprise that Qdoba having to cut back around the country. You can put any spin on it you want – as admittedly a Qdoba employee – but Qdoba is a mediocre chain, especially compared to Chipotle.

  7. Well, the dreadful food sure was a perfect match for the dreadful design of the building. The former is soon to be gone, unfortunately the latter is here to stay.

  8. It’s just cummy food in a boring environment. Same with Ooba Tooba that closed. The only reason that Subway stays open is that they churn out food in a tiny space. If Qdoba had been 1/4 the size it would have worked.

  9. Broadway used to have businesses that supported everyday living needs: a cobbler, a locksmith, household goods (beyond Fred Meyer). In other words, Broadway used to be a neighborhood place, not a quick-food/amusing clothing strip. People actually used to think of it as a destination shopping area; I lived just down the hill from Cornish for years and barely had to leave the area for what we needed to buy — and yes, I could afford a piece or two of furniture from Del-Teets even when I was working at minimal wages. (Masins, not so much, but I got great ideas to hack there.)

    For a long time now, 15th East has carried the responsibility for being the place where we locals shop every day or so. But, there’s only so much room on 15th. We could also use a hardware store (again, beyond FM’s offerings), a bike store, a used bookstore (right on the main street, in the middle of the mix).

    As people have said, the rents need to be set so they can allow small businesses like these. Get Mud Bay onto Broadway; get the new Guilt-Free Goodness bakery down on street level; get the used bookstores back here. And don’t wait for the subway — by then Broadway will be just worse.

    • The cobbler is still there. Great shop. Still hanging in there despite now being surrounded by bank storefronts and the continually confusing Kroger-QFC

    • Mud Bay IS on Broadway. In the Blockbuster building.

      You’re absolutely right that Broadway needs the mix of retail that made it cool an useful in the 1990s. What we have now is crap

  10. I got food poising there on April 22nd and never went back. I’ve always been leery of restaurants that are not busy for this very reason. I’ve eaten there several times before and the place never had more than a couple people at most but I felt it was “safe” due to being part of a corporation, felt they had food safety standards in place. It’s too bad the customer base just wasn’t there to make this a safe and lasting place to eat. But as others noted, better options are available.

    I never ate at the sushi place that used to neighbor Qdoba due to the lack of customers.

    Lots of new developments being constructed not the Northern end of Capital Hill. Hopefully we’ll have a better customer base to fill whatever goes in next.

    • Saizen Sushi was tasty. My friends and I knew the end was coming quickly when they suddenly started charging for a refill of soda.

      btw, it’s CapitOl Hill.

      • Thanks, Tomster. Apparently my browser likes to do my thinking for me – even though it’s not always correct.

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  12. “…limited-service restaurant…”

    Oh. Is that what we’re supposed to call those chain dumps that appear overnight like fungus after a heavy rain? The ones which displace real restaurants, then die, leaving vacant storefronts like missing teeth? Or survive, turning city streets into suburban strip malls? Those places which serve factory food that’s really no better than Dick’s, but employ next to no one and are economically possible only due to corporate leveraging of externalized costs?

    The one thing you can say for them all is that they match the horrible new buildings they tend to occupy perfectly.

  13. Having eaten at that Qdoba a couple of times, and having walked by the other retail spaces (Mod Pizza, Blue Moon) in that building many, many times, one observation I have is that none of the spaces are inviting in the least. You might as well be eating at Northgate Mall. Why go there when there are so many other more inviting eateries on the hill?

    • You are dead on Paul. When I was a younger man in retail and visiting my company’s other stores, my first observation was always “Is the front of the store well lit, open and enticing?” Granted there is only so much you can do for these type of food places, they still could widen the doors, leave them open, signage etc….

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  15. This closure wasn’t a problem inherent to the market. The problem was that Qdoba’s food offerings are bland and boring versions of the real thing, with the same designer menus that the company uses at every suburban location. Give us a real, family owned and operated Mexican restaurant. Qdoba misjudged the market in Seattle.

    Restaurant developers take note! See GRACIAS MADRE in San Francisco at 18th and Mission. Gracias Madre won’t even take reservations except for large parties. You put your name on a waiting list at the door. The restaurant serves vegan, organic Mexican cuisine that reflects new developments in Mexican food you will also see in Mexico. Get rid of any stereotypes of giant plates of beans and pork smothered in cheese and lard, because Mexico is an incredible, dynamic, rapidly modernizing country where Mexican consumers are making the same choices and asking the same questions about food that many Americans are!

    Gracias Madre in San Francisco’s Mission District is packed every night. Somebody bring such high quality new Mexican cuisine to Seattle, please.

  16. I ate at this Qdoba frequently. The food was delicious, and I never got “food poisoning” in the dozens of times I ate there. I’d prefer a Qdoba, Chipotle or Taco del Mar any time over a Taco Bell, which at one time occupied space on the same block.

    Qdoba’s main staple is burritos which are essentially the same as Chipotle’s. To say that you wish the Capitol Hill Qdoba was a Chipotle instead is utterly ridiculous.

    Also, there is nothing at all wrong with a few chain restaurants or stores on a major retail street. We don’t need the businesses in every space to “build community”. That’s ridiculous.

    So stop the whining and the predictable sniping. Things were not better on Broadway Ave. in the “good old days”, they’re actually better now than ever before.

  17. I really don’t get the love people have for Chipotle. It might be better than Qdoba (I don’t know, I’ve never eaten at Qdoba) but it still sucks. I’m originally from New Mexico and later lived in San Francisco for 5 years, so I know what cheap Mexican food should be like. Chipotle is pretty bland and flavorless.

    Seattle has much better. Rancho Bravo does the taco-truck street food thing pretty well, and even Tacos Guaymas and Taco del Mar are better than Chipotle. If you’re willing to pay a bit more there’s also Fogon on Pine, and outside of the hill there’s Azteca, Jalisco, and El Farol.

    If you want the same bland quasi-Mexican fast food that you can get in every city in the country, sure, Chipotle is pretty consistent. But you can do so much better.

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