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Game over for Full Tilt Capitol Hill

In a season of Capitol Hill closures with large leases and high rents as the culprits, the 15th Ave E expansion of Seattle ice cream and arcade chain Full Tilt is also declaring game over.

Owner Justin Cline announced the plans for the Capitol Hill shop to close at the end of December after just under two years of business.

“I am proud of the team we have had there, and they effort everyone put into making it work. It just didn’t. It is not the right area for us,” Cline wrote. “We knew the cost of rent when we went into this space, but we thought we would have the traffic to support it. That did not happen. The wonderful employees are going to work at our other locations, and we have some new projects in the works.”

Cline did not respond to our questions about the timing of the closure. CHS heard rumors about the shop’s impending exit from the street last month amid some worry over the closure of another 15th Ave E sweet shop — the vegan soft serve and dessert joint Sugar Plum. The closure also adds to a year of change for the tenants in the commercial building long-held by the Stratton family. In July, CHS reported on the sale of Full Tilt neighbor Smith as Linda Derschang continued downsizing of her Seattle food and drink holdings.

Full Tilt’s exit joins a small wave of Capitol Hill closures to end 2019. Many involve larger spaces and most involve even larger leases. Matt Dillon, one of the first in this latest wave when he announced his award winning Sitka and Spruce would close at the end of the year, summed up what any prospective Capitol Hill food and drink entrepreneur should be asking before opening — “How many restaurants are opening, and how expensive it is to be a small business person in Seattle? It didn’t make much sense,” Dillon said. The next question for 2020 will be how many will still try. Some, like new E Madison Lao restaurant Taurus Ox’s trio of first-time chef owners see the environment in Seattle and realize the only way to make it work is to innovate on the business side as much as they do in the kitchen.

Cline had toyed with being part of the neighborhood with something different. In 2015, he had plans to open a Full Tilt shop specializing in ice cream pops as part of the Uncle Ike’s complex at 15th and Republican but that plan was put on ice. “I’m more comfortable in that area than dealing with the bros in Pike/Pine,” Cline told CHS at the time. “We’re more about kids, family. A punk Chuck E. Cheese.”

Full Tilt debuted on 15th Ave E in January 2018 bringing its mix of unusual, Seattle-inspired ice creams and arcade games to the former Starbucks space. “This building was built for them 25 years ago,” Full Tilt’s Cline told CHS about replacing the coffee mega chain. “When they decided to move, Linda Derschang called and said she wanted us to be her neighbor.”

But by the end of 2019, Derschang has moved on and Cline’s business, apparently, wasn’t finding ice cream sales to be able to keep up with the cost of a 15th Ave E lease.

UPDATE: A new tenant will be taking over the space. We’ll have more details soon.

UPDATE x2: Not so fast. Full Tilt ownership said there was someone signed up to take over the lease. The representative trying to lease the space tells CHS, nope, the search for a new tenant is still open. You can find contact information at the shop.

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16 thoughts on “Game over for Full Tilt Capitol Hill

  1. I can’t say I am surprised, though as a resident of the neighborhood it sucks to see 15th Ave businesses shuttering.

    The main issue in my view is too many businesses and just not enough traffic up on 15th to sustain them.

    • There’s MASSIVE foot traffic on 15th – i’ve been part of it for over 10 years.

      What’s truly baffling is that on ANOTHER street, 4 blocks over, where there is VERY LITTLE foot traffic, people actually go out of their way to DRIVE to this overpriced dessert place with NO space, ZERO entertainment value, and they have lines in the winter – GAH!

      I’ve worked retail, customer service, and events for a long time… as a consumer, i expect to be wowed, not only with product, but with customer service and entertainment… places who miss all three and still succeed truly baffle me.

      • “Massive” is a pretty big statement. I’m also a resident of this area, and it’s not nearly as high trafficked as other areas of Capitol Hill (say that Pike/Pine corridor briefly mentioned in the article). In fact, I’d say that anytime after the sun goes down, it’s very quiet.

        Though you may not think this other dessert location has a good product/customer service/entertainment value (I have no clue what place you’re talking about in this case… maybe Wandering Goose?)… obviously other people do, and that’s ultimately what matters at the end of the day for any business. Enough people have to like what’s being served/provided- so clearly that business is doing something right for their audience- and maybe that’s just not you.

  2. This is SUCH a loss! I rarely eat sugar and am vegan, yet went twice a month to give them my business, because it’s such a great concept for the MULTITUDE of families that lives on the hill! Ice Cream for everyone, beer, beverages, pinball, ski-ball, and video games – SO MUCH FUN!

    I’m truly puzzled and confused how ANOTHER place that sells micro-sized overpriced cookies & ice cream, with ZERO entertainment value OR space for families to hang out, is more successful than Full Tilt… in my mind, this doesn’t make sense at all.

    Oh well, yet another consumer puzzle i don’t get OR care to solve.

    Sorry Full Tilt, my family loved you and my daughter spent many a birthdays (hers and friends) there in the short time you were here.

    • Trying to be all things to all people isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. Looking at the photos, it’s not a very attractive space to me with its glossy purple and fluorescent green paint and harsh, direct lighting. And it also seems like they were leaning heavily on nostalgia with the pinball machines, retro logo, and cassette tape bar top. Seemed like a mess and too large of a space for an ice cream shop.

      That said, they do have great ice cream and I buy it at the grocery store, I just wouldn’t go out of my way to spend any time in that space.

  3. Posters wondering why the smaller ice cream place on 19th is doing better business: a lot of parents these days don’t want their children subjected to an onslaught on blinking / flashing screens and the 19th strip these days has a more family friendly vibe then 15th.

    • Agreed.

      As someone who isn’t a parent and hates children: I couldn’t care less if the pinball machines are giving the little ones seizures and/or the ice cream is giving them autism. Keep those little disease vectors away from me and I am fine.

      That said…I can imagine the games, etc. are a huge time suck for a parent just looking to get some ice cream and get home, and not have to oh, I dunno, wait around for 7 1/2 hours while [insert nouveau names here] play pinball and/or Pacman?

      The space itself was also huge, so that probably played a part, and Cone and Steiner is in a MUCH smaller spot which translates to lower rent.

      And, yes, E. 15th is definitely skeezier than 19th Ave is today…so that is likely affecting business as well.

      On another note, I look forward to a vacant storefront in the neighborhood for the next gazillion years while a new tenant is found! As there is no full kitchen, we can at least look forward to it not being a restaurant so…maybe we can get a Massage Envy (bleh), or one of those “boutiques” for middle aged women where all the clothing looks like it was cut from the drapes in a house from the 1980s?

      • Wow….such vitriol towards kids. I suppose you are trying to be clever and “hip” with your comment, but you really just come across as a crank.

  4. Cool space with bad signage, next to and/or nearby to other dessert spots (not to mention a few grocery stores)… not sure what the mystery is here for some folks! Fingers crossed for a solid bar to go in the spot, as Liberty gets pretty packed.

  5. Really disappointing to read. It was the only small business I patronized on 15th. Their outdoor signage wasn’t good though, it was too easy to walk right by the place, and it wasn’t too clear what kind of a business it was (I told friends about the place and they told me later they couldn’t find it). Ah well, back to picking up a solitary ice cream bar at the 7-11…

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