Seattle restaurant reform could ease permit process for Capitol Hill’s indie food+drink entrepreneurs

Bakery Nouveau was able to navigate DPD and the rest to put one of the "most  challenged" retail spaces on the Hill to use. Others haven't been as lucky (Image: rupeegroupie via Flickr)

Bakery Nouveau was able to navigate DPD and the rest to put one of the “most challenged” retail spaces on the Hill to use. Others haven’t been as lucky (Image: rupeegroupie via Flickr)

Opening dates for new Capitol Hill restaurants and bars are notoriously unpredictable. But there’s no mystery about it. Owners get hung up trying to navigate the cumbersome permitting requirements of state, county, and city agencies.

In an effort to demystify the process of opening an eating/drinking establishment in Seattle, a group of city, state, and industry representatives have been working over the past year to study the problems and develop plans to address them.

The team will present those findings Tuesday at 2 PM to the city council’s Committee on Economic Resiliency and Regional Relations. Presenters will include representatives from the city’s Office of Economic Development, the Washington State Department of Commerce, King county Public Health, and the Washington Restaurant Association.

According to a briefing document (PDF), the effort seeks to “improve the experience of starting and operating restaurants” within Seattle. Additionally the group hopes to cater reforms to help immigrant restauranteurs. The group wants to start work on the streamlining effort this summer, with a long term regulatory reform to take place next year.

We’re pretty certain that a few of you reading this post will have some more ideas to add to the list.

The Washington Restaurant Association’s Josh McDonald said the group would likely propose creating a single phone number for restaurateurs to call for assistance with any step of the permitting process. The team expects to launch an online guide to starting a restaurant in Seattle by next year.

The permitting reforms will be particularly meaningful on Capitol Hill, where the competitive food/drink economy is a crucial source of neighborhood employment and a major citywide destination. The reforms should be a boon for independent and immigrant owners who can’t afford restaurant consultants, McDonald said.

Last year the city analyzed the permitting process for 50 restaurants. After collecting the data a group of cross-agency representatives found that the current process for starting a restaurant lacks transparency. Applicants were not clear on where to begin the permitting process.

Among the findings was that nearly half of Seattle restaurateurs start the process of opening a restaurant with the county or city, while the other half start with the state.

In its 2013 budget the city council approved up to $10,000 for improving the restaurant permitting process. The restaurant reform is part of a larger effort by the state to reform permitting within different industries.

“The restaurant industry deals with so many different departments, from state, to county, to city,” said McDonald. “If they can help us streamline, they could help any industry.”

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