CHS was correct in reporting last Sunday, December 15th, was the last “knight” for Ye Olde Canterbury before a 2014 filled with an overhaul — and new owners.
But behind the scenes, a new deal for the old bar has been worked out.
When the sun rises in the spring of 2014 on a new Canterbury Ale & Eats, Pike/Pine restauranteur James Snyder and Neumos club partner Mike Meckling will have replaced two princes of Pike/Pine in carrying the project forward.
“Mike and I have been looking to do a project for awhile now,” Snyder tells CHS. “We’ve been touring spaces and trying to get into something.”
That opportunity came as Snyder says Capitol Hill Housing, the owner of the Fredonia Apartments building the Canterbury has called home since 1976, reached out to this fall to say the lease at 15th and Mercer was available. CHH had earlier announced it was working with Lost Lake partners Jason Lajeunesse and David Meinert to transition the Canterbury to a more resident-friendly version of the tavern that would serve as “a comfortable, accessible, third place” suitable for “a variety of income levels.” But in early November, news broke that Lajeunesse, also part of the Neumos partnership, and Meinert were taking over their E Pike neighbor The Comet, an opportunity that Snyder also had coveted. Suddenly the Canterbury was available.
“I’m trying to build restaurants,” Snyder says of the dealings. “That’s all it comes down to — if I’m a good fit for the space. I don’t look at it as rivalry.”
“After the community focus group and much discussion with Dave and Jason, we all felt a shift in the business model would be a better fit for a very much residential community,” Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons told CHS via email. “They helped bring Mike into the picture.”
UPDATE: Lajeunesse sent a note on the change via email:
In regard to us departing from the Canterbury project: After sitting through the focus groups and spending more time at the Canterbury, one of the major issues that started to surface for us was the inevitable issues we were going to have with the residential neighbors. As our business model started to really take shape, and materialize, we realized that we were actually building the wrong business for that space. After deliberating long and hard, we decided that the project might be better suited to someone else, who had a different vision than us. CHH has been so great to work with, and as current supporters of the organization, it was imperative we made the right decision for everyone involved, as hard as it was to let go.
Snyder, who opened Sam’s Tavern at E Pike and 11th just a few days before New Year’s 2013, said he visited the Canterbury in its final days and got to know a few of the regulars to find out what made the place a nearly 40-year survivor. He also had a few of the Canterbury regulars come visit Sam’s. While there will be a significant overhaul to the space, Snyder and Meckling — who got to know each other as Sam’s got going on E Pike — are hoping to keep the feel of the original Canterbury. “We want to keep the embedded culture,” Snyder said.
Meckling and Snyder also helped Stefanie and David Roberge, owners of the bar for the past decade, get a good start on retirement, buying the business lock, stock and a few smoking barrels — including the Canterbury name.
Snyder, a son of the Red Robin clan, says his first year of business at Pike/Pine will help as he prepares 15th Ave’s Canterbury for a hoped-for May 2014 re-opening.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s been really successful,” he says of Sam’s. “We’re developing a really cool culture that’s needed up on Capitol Hill.”
“But we weren’t as prepared as we should have been,” Snyder said. “We changed the burgers within the first two months. And the fries within the first 2 months.”
Snyder says he’ll be more food-focused from the start this time around. It makes sense given his family bloodlines. There’s a new son of Red Robin, by the way. Snyder’s home is busy this holiday with new baby Grady, born last week.
Snyder will surely have some words of wisdom for his son about doing business on Capitol Hill.
“Capitol Hill is about share,” Snyder told CHS. “There’s more people up on Capitol Hill than any other part of Seattle. If we’re providing a need for people in the area we’re doing something right.”