Despite warnings of saturation, the booming food and drink economy on Capitol Hill has produced relatively few casualties. But they do happen. This weekend, the neighborhood will say goodbye to one of its new ventures as Zhu Dang serves its final meals after one year of business on E Olive Way.
“Our decision to call it quits after just one year was based on a lot of factors, but mostly financial,” owner Steve Cheng tells CHS. “We gave it a shot, and weren’t able to execute.”
Zhu Dang — pronounced “Zoo Don” for Pig Party, Cheng said, a kind of fantasy progressive political party that he just liked the sound of — opened on E Olive Way last December serving “updated Chinese food with a Northwest vibe” in the space left empty by another short-lived venture — the doomed The Social nightclub and EVO Tapas restaurant.
Cheng and his wife co-owner Meghann Seiler are luckier than the folks behind the Social who exited the street under a cloud of litigation and disputes over unpaid rent. “We had very understanding landlords and were able to break our lease with no penalties,” Cheng tells CHS.
According to King County records, the building is owned by the Cheng family who purchased the property in 2013 for $3.35 million.
A search for a new tenant is now underway.
“Tomorrow, Saturday November 7, will be the last day of business for Zhu Dang,” Cheng said in a statement sent Friday to CHS. “I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to open (what I hope was) a compelling and unique restaurant. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the numbers to make sense, so we’re cutting our losses early. I want to sincerely thank all of our customers for their support over the past year. And I’m extremely grateful to my staff, who worked so hard and taught me so much. Please join us for dinner one last time tonight and tomorrow!”
Cheng asked CHS to wait to report the decision until the first-time owners had a chance to tell the restaurant’s staff about the closure.
Zhu Dang’s closure is one of only a small handful of casualties among the most recent waves of openings across Capitol Hill — 100 through the start of 2014… we haven’t yet tallied the openings of 2015. What takeaways can we draw from the shuttering?
First, Cheng said the closure has nothing to do with Seattle’s minimum wage schedule which will bring a new $12 floor to small businesses in the city that don’t offer medical benefits or tips. So, no lumping it in with the zPizza closure.
Other recent Capitol Hill closures have been followed relatively by new openings — Kedai Makan took over where Spaghetti Western shuttered, Mighty-O is cleaning up where High 5 Pie bailed. Naka slipped in where Le Zinc le exited. Even the tragic exit of decidedly not-new Charlie’s will have a new player lined up in its place in no time.
The Zhu Dang closure might be most reminiscent of another upper-scale Chinese venture on Capitol. Like the space home to the ill-fated Bako that opened in part of the overhauled Jade Pagoda building on Broadway before shuttering and clearing the decks for Bait Shop from Linda Derschang, the best next use for the big E Olive Way venue might be to turn it over to one of the established Capitol Hill players who can afford to create a giant barstaurant — or three little teeny ones.
“Ultimately, we weren’t the right restaurant for this space,” Cheng told CHS. “I still love E Olive Way, and I think that this space still has huge potential.”