Ericka Burke’s centerpiece in one of the most celebrated development projects in Pike/Pine went out of business Friday with only a hand-written paper sign to make the announcement. Chop Shop, which opened as a day and night restaurant in Capitol Hill developer Liz Dunn’s preservation incentive-boosted Chophouse Row office and retail project in July 2015, is permanently closed.
The restaurant’s social media accounts broadcasted confirmation of the paper sign’s sad, abrupt message over the weekend:
We regretfully announce that Chop Shop will be closed indefinitely. Thank you for your support and patronage!
– The Chop Shop team
— Chop Shop Seattle (@chopshopseattle) August 6, 2016
The restaurant’s public relations representative said a statement on the sudden closure will be made soon. Chop Shop’s closure comes at the one-year mark for the ambitious Pike/Pine restaurant. The anniversary is sometimes used as a kick-out clause release date in leases if sales haven’t met certain benchmarks.
The 2,000-square-foot, 67-seat vision of “Northwest casual” opened in July 2015 and represented a major milestone in Burke’s attempts to expand her food and drink investments beyond her successful but neighborhood-limited Volunteer Park Cafe.
Chop Shop also represented a return to Pike/Pine for Burke after a first run was cut short in 2009 when her partnership with Linda Derschang in starting Oddfellows did not work out.
Along with Chop Shop, Burke also opened a new cafe and market in the Portage Bay neighborhood in 2015. But by February, one of those hand-written signs went up and the Canal Market was abruptly closed. Six months later, Chop Shop is also shuttered. The Volunteer Park Cafe, meanwhile, operated as normal this weekend.
The Chop Shop closure is probably the highest profile failure in the latest waves of food and drink openings across Capitol Hill. Mingling the talents of a Capitol Hill food and drink veteran with Dunn, a developer respected for her focus on the neighborhood and small businesses, would seem a recipe for success on a Capitol Hill where the food and drink scene has continued to boom. But there were definitely signs along the way including the early exit of Chop Shop’s founding chef Joseph Bollag after only 9 1/2 weeks. “That is all my food,” Bollag told CHS after the split. Bollag said a difference in opinion over how strong a presence he should be in the marketing and branding of Chop Shop lead to his exit. “He wasn’t the right fit,” Chop Shop’s PR rep told CHS at the time. The restaurant’s premium prices and ambitious day and night schedule including a “juice and provisions” counter never really took off.
Dunn now is left with a large hole in her plans for the award-winning development designed by Sundberg, Kennedy and Ly-Au Young, and Graham Baba that built around and above 11th Ave auto row buildings including the old home of Chophouse Studios. Chophouse Row’s roster of food, drink, and retail tenants includes farm-to-ice cream cone champion Kurt Timmermeister who has taken a 300-square-foot patch of space for his dairy-powered cream and cheese venture, Kurt Farm Shop, Amandine Bakeshop from macaron genius Sara Naftaly, and a new Upper Bar Ferd’nand. Instead of betting on the Capitol Hill apartment market, Dunn designed office space for Chophouse Row and is currently landlord to a gaggle of tech startups as well as proprietor of the penthouse level Cloud Room coworking and community space. She has been a proponent of creating more “daytime activity” around Pike/Pine to diversify the types of businesses, residents, and visitors the neighborhood attracts.
“That’s what I’m hoping to bring to that part of Capitol Hill — that third place,” Burke told CHS when we broke the news on Chop Shop in 2014. “There’s going to be a real vibrant daytime presence.”
UPDATE 8/8/2016 9:55 AM: Burke did not respond to an offer to speak with CHS about the closure over the weekend but she did talk with the Puget Sound Business Journal (“In a nutshell we have been underfunded since the beginning“) and Seattle Met (“From the very beginning we were underfunded, and we hoped and prayed that if we can just get enough people in, we’ll cover it“). In other words, there weren’t enough customers. As we noted above, Chop Shop’s daytime ambitions were part of the problem. Both articles cite slow breakfast and lunch hours as contributing to the closure.
Meanwhile, Chop Shop isn’t the only closure in the past year around Capitol Hill’s food+drink scene. Here is the list we’re aware of in no particular order:
- Old Sage — The Old Sage closes after owner’s $2.4M bankruptcy filing
- Vivre (events only, for now)
- Zhu Dang — A rare Capitol Hill casualty, Zhu Dang to shutter on E Olive Way
- Bauhaus — Bauhaus closes Capitol Hill cafe, says won’t be returning to Melrose and Pine
- Healeo — Liquidation: Healeo shutters Capitol Hill cafe, lives on in wholesale juice biz
- Culture Club — Stretched too thin? Capitol Hill cheese bar Culture Club to close
- Manhattan — The troubled birth, triumphant revival, and peaceful death of Capitol Hill steakhouse Manhattan
UPDATE x2: Here’s the statement from Burke on the closure. “Sadly, I think it was mostly bad timing,” Burke says.
On Friday, August 5, chef/owner Ericka Burke made a hard decision and quietly closed the doors of her one-year-old Chop Shop Cafe & Bar and Chop Shop Juice in Chophouse Row on Capitol Hill.
The decision comes after a year of struggling financially to get ahead on a project that was critically underfunded from the start. Burke’s Chop Shop is the anchor tenant of local developer Liz Dunn’s most recent mixed-use project. The gorgeous 2,800 square-foot space has lofted ceilings and exposed wood elements, brightened by Burke’s additions of botanical wallpaper and vintage art and collectibles.
“Liz has been such a great support through all of this,” says Burke. “From the get-go, she has been there with sage advice and friendship. I am so grateful to her and my group of investors for giving me this opportunity.”
The growth of the neighborhood and the construction on 11th Avenue left the street right in front of Chop Shop closed for the most of the last year, making foot traffic almost non-existent.
“Sadly, I think it was mostly bad timing,” says Burke. “ Evenings were nice and busy, but I took on more space in the building than I had originally planned to, and the lack of street visibility during the day was hard and we just couldn’t catch up. In hindsight, I also should have put the juice bar in a more accessible location.”
Burke says she’s deeply disappointed, of course, but she’s thankful to all that devoted their time and energy to making Chop Shop as great as it was.
“I had such big dreams for Chop Shop, and my sincere thanks go out to all of my wonderful staff that helped make it happen,” says Burke.
Burke plans to focus her energy of her first spot, Volunteer Park Cafe, which will celebrate 10 years on North Capitol Hill in January. She also plans to spend a lot of quality time with her young son. It’s been a very busy and intense couple of years.