If things work out with final permits and logistics, Katsu Burger could become the 36th new restaurant, cafe, or bar to open across and around Capitol Hill in 2016. But here is the thing about CHS’s ongoing tally of new food and drink ventures opening on Capitol Hill over the years. There are all sorts of things in the mix.
Of the 36 new places we are semi-officially logging for 2016, six aren’t actually on Capitol Hill, and the list includes everything from a new life for the Broadway coffee shack as Let it Bean to the ambitious I-5 Shores buildout of the charming Harry’s Fine Foods. That 2016 spectrum topped by the Harry’s project bootstrapped by creative first time restaurateurs, by the way, marked a departure from recent years when the neighborhood saw a handful of huge investments in surprisingly massive restaurant palaces. In 2015, that kind of ambition created Renee Erickson’s amazing Pike/Pine trio of Melusine+Bateau+General Porpoise — in 2016, that ambition clearly paid off as Bateau was picked by many as the restaurant of the year. There were no new palaces created in 2016 Capitol Hill food and drink but lots of smaller, maybe warmer spaces like Harry’s or the restoration of the old way in the historic Loveless Building at Cook Weaver.
Like Cook Weaver, the story of 2016 wasn’t only the new. The ongoing transition to a $15 minimum wage brought new ways of doing business and changes to the crucial underpinnings of the food and drink economy like tipping. It was also a revealing year for the realities of food and drink’s inherent risk as we sifted through the financial wreckage of Bauhaus and the founder of Tavern Law. And a few old timers celebrated important milestones and new beginnings.
+ CHS Year in Review 2016 | Capitol Hill’s most important stories
+ The year in Capitol Hill pictures
+ Plans to build our way out of it, the year in Capitol Hill development
+ Pizza, no palaces, and the real world — the year in food+drink
Food+drink: 2015 / 2014 / 2013 / 2012 / 2011 / 2010
Let’s start with the bad news. While critics have been waiting for a Capitol Hill restaurant and bar bubble to pop, we’re not sure those critics will ever get such a clear conclusion to the year after year cliffhangers. But we did see a few small “pops” along the way in 2016. There were two financial implosions within the Capitol Hill food and drink family that revealed just how tenuous growth can be in the business.
This spring, mysteries of the sudden Bauhaus closures were revealed as CHS reported on the US Western District Bankruptcy Court case for owner Joel Radin, documenting some $1.6 million in debt the businessman rolled up with friends, family, and banks as he operated a small chain of Bauhaus cafes and a popular Ballard pizza joint. Even Radin’s dog — value $20 — was subject to the filings. Another ambitious owner found himself in a similar place to Radin in 2016 as Brian McCracken, founder of the Tavern Law family of businesses, was hit with a $1.2 million judgement over a family loan and debts that spiraled out of control. The subsequent bankruptcy filing documented some $2.4 million in debts. His 12th Ave Old Sage location will soon reopen as the home to Katsu Burger and Tavern Law has financially sound if not high profile new ownership. Meanwhile, we saw what was probably the highest profile failure in the recent boom times of Capitol Hill food and drink as Chop Shop — the centerpiece restaurant from Ericka Burke’s Volunteer Park Cafe family of businesses in a much-lauded new project from Capitol Hill superstar developer Liz Dunn — closed suddenly in August after only one year of business.
Births and changes
Where there is death, there is birth. From the wreckage of the Bauhaus implosion, Sugar Hill opened in late 2016 to skip back a generation in the building’s history for some Capitol Club-level inspiration… Chop Shop’s end brought a new beginning for Bruce and Sara Naftaly as the couple expanded their presence in Chophouse Row with the broth-y Marmite… after more than 20 years, Coastal Kitchen got new owners… on E Pike, late night hot dog cash created Ikina Sushi. Its sibling Capitol Lounge is lined up to be a good story in 2017… Manu’s Bodegita made a Capitol Hill homecoming… Stateside expanded its presence with the sexy Foreign National… Honor Society Coffee joined the offerings inside Melrose Market… Capitol Hill’s first plant-based ice cream shop Frankie and Jo’s from power duo Autumn Martin of Hot Cakes and Kari Brunson of Juicebox Cafe opened on the backside of Pike/Pine… Clever Cook Weaver put the Loveless Building’s restaurant space back into motion and its historic murals back on display… Small news was good, too. 15th Ave E favorite Teriyaki Madness expanded… Meanwhile, Bar Vacilando put a long empty 15th Ave E space back to work… Corvus and Co. overcame some early naming controversy to make a CHS Crow-approved debut on Broadway… Gasp! Paseo said it was coming (slowly!?) to Capitol Hill… Gasp! Vita closed its popular top floor off to make office space… Gasp! Dick’s started taking credit cards.
The Central District
“Not a lot has been written about the Central District’s burgeoning restaurant scene, in part because many Seattleites are so deeply troubled over the gentrification it represents,” the Seattle Met wrote earlier this month. Don’t buy it. We’re not sure what cavalcade of journalism the Met was expecting but the idea that gentrification is stopping any of the glossies from sucking down and regurgitating a press release is comical. More likely than the Met’s deep troubles is that the CD is growing up in a new era of media with Facebook and Instagram etc. doing the talking. In 2016, CHS joined the tweeting and chirping about some of the Capitol Hill-proximate CD openings. It’s a good list! French seafood play L’Oursin — #pacifiquenorthwest — is a good example of the kinds of projects growing in the Central District near the Capitol Hill border zones. “Our timing was just so bad in finding restaurant spaces,” chef JJ Proville told CHS. “We started looking about three years ago. Everything got really expensive.” A burst or three of development with increasing density in the neighborhoods has made the CD pencil out. The veteran restaurateurs behind Quinn’s transitioned their Zoe Capitol Hill venue into an event space while opening their new project at 24th and Union — a new Feed Co. burger joint. The burger place neighbors new Union Coffee from the Molly Moon ice cream family. Meanwhile, the 23rd and Union area gained another new coffee joint as salon + cafe Squirrel Chops opened at the corner.
The Year in Pizza
Five new pizza joints joined the Capitol Hill scene in 2016. Six if you count Italian Family Pizza’s move to Boren and Madison. John Sundstrom’s Southpaw capped the year with its 12th Ave opening in the original Lark space and its “somewhere in-between Neapolitan and New York style” slices. It joined a class of 2016 that included Broadway’s Magnolia-rooted Pizzeria Ottantotto, Minor and Pine’s stripped-down Meltdown Pizza, the headbanging PDXers at Sizzle Pie and its Dark Bar, and the crusty, cheesy goodness of check cashing shop turned faux-90s dive pizza bar Dino’s Tomato Pie at E Olive Way and Denny. Owners we talked with said pizza’s healthy profit margins mixed with opportunities presented by Pike/Pine’s young diners were at the core of the business decisions driving the openings. But they also said things like, hey, we like making pizza. Still, nothing is guaranteed — even a pizza joint on Capitol Hill. Meltdown was the first of the class of 2016 to shutter before the year was even done.
While 2016 passed without some of the openings of massive investments in food+drink infrastructure we’ve seen in recent years, Harry’s Fine Foods did stand out as one of the most interesting buildouts of the year. We started following the intriguing Harry’s Fine Foods project in late 2015 when Seattle super agent Laura Miller acquired the former dusty corner bodega and work began to prepare it for new life as a Bellevue Ave E restaurant.
We caught up with chef Julian Hagood on his project over the summer as the contractors at Metis were digging into the 1910-built building. Harry’s features cafe offerings with vegetarian influences and a light, nutritious approach, a patio built behind the old store, and new windows designed to be opened wide to transform the rebuilt space into an open, airy cafe. Even Harry’s old refrigerator case was put to use in the buildout.
The Real World
Some on the left have taken to marking each pizza joint’s new opening in Seattle as proof that the city’s slow march to a $15 minimum wage — in 2017 as part of the city’s minimum wage phase-in schedule, workers who do not receive tips or health benefits at businesses with more than 500 employees will reach a $15 an hour minimum starting in January. Workers at small businesses will have a guaranteed minimum of $13 an hour in 2017, up from $12 an hour this year — is part of a continuing-to-thrive restaurant industry in the city. We would say it’s honestly too early to tell — and, who knows, maybe a proliferation of pizza really proves that businessfolk are preparing for tougher times — but the real world including wages and workers rights in 2016 continued to shape the Capitol Hill story in food and drink. Capitol Hill restaurateurs including Rene Erickson led on changing the way the industry handles the end of tipping and prolific openers like Ethan Stowell added to the tipless wave. The city also passed new scheduling laws that will change how big chains handle schedule changes and on-call shifts. The Pledge program spread giving Capitol Hill’s restaurants, bars, and cafes a way to tell homeless people how they can help with water, food, restrooms, and more while Seattle Food Rescue swung into action rescuing more and more produce and fruits to donate to local food banks and nonprofits. Ugliness crept in, too, as police tried to confirm reports of drugged drinks at Capitol Hill bars. Meanwhile, the Pike/Pine nightlife scene — or, a version of it — became the backdrop for reality television drama as the Real World cast made its home in the neighborhood.
There were also more than a few sad days in the business this year. Lisa Nakamura kissed the brick and mortar part of her business goodbye as a challenged 12th and Pine space claimed another RIP with Gnocchi Bar leaving the corner and transitioning to a fulltime focus on the grocery and wholesale business… Justin Brotman brought the cafe portion of his Healeo business to a close in a year that would also see his media venture getting a lot of attention… Monger Sheri LaVigne had to shut down her 12th Ave cheese bar Culture Club after only six months of business… Boom Noodle died after ten years and a few concept switcheroos… the Meat and Bread chain bailed on Pike/Pine… and 95 Slide threw one final party bringing decades of nightlife at Pike and Harvard — 95 Slide, Hunter Gatherer Lodge, War Room, Blu, Brass Connection, Mr. Paddywacks — to a close…. and tilt back a Jack and an Amstel Light to remember Don Stevens, the man who kept his word to bring back Bill’s Off Broadway after its block was redeveloped.