A few of the Capitol Hill captains of food+drink industry
Not only are Seattle restaurants not closing down because of the “$15 minimum wage” but a wave of entrepreneurs and investors is pushing forward on plans to open more food+drink joints around the city. And they’re looking at Capitol Hill for how to do it.
Nearly 200 restaurant owners, developers, and brokers gathered at The Triple Door Wednesday morning for the second annual restaurant industry summit put on by Bisnow, a Washington D.C.-based trade publication outfit.
“Prices will increase, but I’m full steam ahead,” said Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, and the New Restaurant Boom panelist Josh Henderson to the crowd of $80 ticket attendees. Henderson ain’t kidding. The prolific entrepreneur behind the Skillet-sprouted empire of the Huxley Wallace Collective just announced details of a fleet of new ventures he plans to launch in the city over the next year.
The “$15 minimum wage” — really, $10 an hour at businesses employing fewer than 500 people and providing healthcare or tips starting April 1st — doesn’t seem to be stopping him.
While most panelists that spoke to the dozens of food and drink pros Wednesday agreed Seattle’s wage hike would increase menu prices at their establishments (get ready for another nickel per scoop at Molly Moon’s, for example), most of the Capitol Hill experts who spoke had high hopes for the future.
“By the end of the seven year phase-in, there will $400 million more in this city’s workers pockets,” ice cream entrepreneur Molly Moon Neitzel said. “They will inevitably spend more on going out to eat.”
Others had bigger worries than higher wages.
As the Linda’s Tavern block fills with new development, Linda Derschang said rising rents could eventually force her bar out of the bar’s longtime E Pine home. Derschang said she’s also worried about how new Capitol Hill residential development will mesh with existing nightlife. “I’m not sure new tenants are going to enjoy the (Linda’s) patio at 2 in the morning,” she said.
Meanwhile, for Tom Douglas — who has vowed that his Serious Pie inside the Starbucks Roastery is as far up the Hill he plans to come — the lack of parking downtown and unsafe bus stops were most concerning. Meanwhile on the Hill, the glut of sterile, bland storefronts in new construction threatens the longterm viability of Pike/Pine and Broadway’s restaurant economies, according to Patrick Foley of Lake Union Partners.
Executing restaurant concepts, the failed promise of food trucks, and the need for daytime businesses were some of the other topics touched on in the wide-ranging discussion of how to get the recipe right for creating a food and drink boom that doesn’t bust.
Foley, who developed the 19th and Mercer building home to Tallulah’s, said allowing business owners creative input was crucial to building successful commercial developments.
“We didn’t want anyone except Linda,” he said. “We said ‘you just do what you do.’”
Looking toward the next “boom” neighborhood for restaurants, James Weimann, part of the ownership of Poquitos, and Rhein Haus, said he was impressed with the rise of “pocket neighborhoods,” like 19th Ave E on Capitol Hill and the small commercial stretch of NW 70th in Ballard that includes Delancey’s.
Looking at Capitol Hill itself, panelists seemed less concerned with bar and restaurant saturation and more worried the lack of daytime businesses on Capitol Hill. The worries about obnoxious and sometimes dangerously ignorant nightlife crowds also make a difference to the bottom line. “The bros and frat guys hanging out is real,” said Foley on concerns about cultural change on Capitol Hill. “National developers come here because they see lots of people moving here and good paying jobs.”
Among the hard chargers making plans to extend the food and drink boom, there was one figure in the room who said she was sitting on the sidelines for the next rush. Despite having one new business idea a week, Derschang said she has no plans to expand her empire at the moment. Instead, she said she wants to work on better managing her bars, restaurants, and the 250 employees that staff them.
We’ll have more on the first steps from Seattle and Capitol Hill employers — including restaurants, bars, shops, big organizations, and small — in the transition to a higher minimum wage starting April 1st soon.