Diners hoping for a Friday night visit found the 19th at Mercer restaurant dark and a paper sign on the door announcing it was closed for the night. Weekend brunch patrons had their reservations canceled. The weekend closure followed other nights of unannounced shuttering. This Monday and Tuesday brought more of the same.
Ownership hasn’t said anything definitive but Capitol Hill restaurant Tallulah’s did not have the best week of business even as the venue marked its sixth year on Capitol Hill’s quieter side along the leafy 19th Ave E.
The restaurant ownership won’t say it is done. But it’s not open, either. Owner Brad Haggen tells CHS the restaurant was closed due to staffing issues. “We lost some key staff and were not able to take care of our guests properly,” Haggen said.
He has not responded to further requests as the restaurant remained shuttered this week.
The wrinkle comes just over a year since CHS reported on new ownership for the Linda Derschang creation.
She also sold off her 15th Ave E pub Smith this summer.
Tallulah’s debuted in December 2013 in a lighter vision, veggie-friendly menu, and more modern design design that was partly a response to Derschang’s reputation for vintage and dive vibes.
Entrepreneur and investor Haggen, part of the family behind the grocery chain told CHS after the 2018 acquisition that the Derschang founded restaurant represented a “no brainer” opportunity as was looking for businesses to start or buy following his family’s sale of their interest in the grocery company.
Haggen made Tallulah’s part of a small collection of “neighborhood cafes” including Skylark’s in Bellingham and ownership of regional franchise rights to a Neopolitan pizza chain.
@jseattle This sign has apparently been up since Saturday morning and someone told me they were called on Friday by the restaurant about their Saturday brunch reservations being canceled. pic.twitter.com/R6rHdkkLw3
— DJ Lightray (@DJ_Lightray) December 16, 2019
UPDATE: While Haggen hasn’t said what led to the loss of key staff at Tallulah’s, CHS is told there had been payroll issues and other signs of cash flow problems with the business. Meanwhile, other big closures to end the year on Capitol Hill have been pegged in large part to expensive leases and challenges around how expenses are handled. Matt Dillon, chef and owner of the award winning Sitka and Spruce which is set to close at the end of the month, explained to CHS earlier this year how triple net reconciliation — in which lessees are responsible for paying rent and also expenses like utilities, real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance — was at the center of his decision to close his Melrose Market venue.
UPDATE x2: According to a person familiar with the situation, the Tallulah’s closure stems from months of payroll problems and paycheck delays as the restaurant struggled with cash flow after Haggen’s takeover. “It’s really disheartening to see him blame this on staff,” the person tells CHS. We’re not identifying the individual we spoke with out of concerns over possible retaliation. The person we spoke with says the situation came to a head the weekend of December 6th as multiple employees walked out over paycheck issues. The source says the owner was able to convince a handful of employees to scramble together an opening last week — an ill-fated taco night — before shutting down for good. Haggen is referring employees to contact his lawyer. CHS has reached out but not yet heard back from Haggen’s representation. We did hear back from Haggen, however. “I have Tallulah’s listed for sale,” he said in a text message.
UPDATE x3: Tallulah’s employees would like to be paid. We’ve heard from one who says they are owed nearly $2,000 they are counting on for Christmas. We’ve asked Haggen about the owed paychecks but have not heard back.
UPDATE x4: Staff members say they are organizing a legal response and have verified with CHS that a fundraiser has been set up on their behalf by friend Marissa DeLeon with plans to split the proceeds among the workers to help out with living and holiday expenses in the meantime. If you would like to lend a hand, you can give here:
Tallulah’s closed after months of payroll issues, and the owner not paying his employees on time and what they are owed. With holidays and rent coming up, please help us support our local service workers (and FRIENDS) this holiday season. This fundraiser will be run with these displaced employees and all funds will go directly to them. Let’s support our community.
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