Central Smoke, another big restaurant project that can be traced to the ambitious and sizable class of 2015, has closed. Meanwhile, the city’s food and drink industry leaders seem a little worried — “Is Seattle’s booming restaurant scene showing signs of slowing?,” the Seattle Times asked over the weekend.
At Central Smoke, which debuted as Seven Beef from the Monsoon and Ba Bar family of restaurants in 2015, the mood was melancholy with a dash of hope.
“Our 7 Beef/Central Smoke space still has the same warm ambience it had the day we opened, a state-of-the-art kitchen, inviting bar and gracious patio, making it a very attractive venue for other enterprising restauranteurs. We are confident that our beloved space will not remain dark for long,” the ownership wrote in its goodbye message.
“Much thanks to our loyal guests and dedicated, professional staff for making this venture so very rewarding and memorable.”
Seven Beef was born in 2015 as a “steak shop” featuring classic, “familiar” cuts like the “porterhouse, T-bone, New York Strip” and the “unfamiliar” including “oyster, belly, Teres Major.” Owners/chefs/siblings Eric Banh and Sophie Banh and crew received quartered cows from Rochester, Washington’s Heritage Meats which they broke down into steaks — and much, much more — in the 4,000 square foot restaurant that had nearly as much kitchen work space as room for diners.
In the Central Smoke goodbye message, the restaurant explained what came next. “But in 2018, the unforgiving economics of the Seattle restaurant scene compelled us to pivot from 7 Beef to the more casual Central Smoke, high-end barbecue at very reasonable prices,” it reads.
The result was Central Smoke, a Central District barbecue joint so dedicated to the cause, the Banhs and chef Mike Whisenhunt imported an 8,000-pound smoker from Texas.
Now, five years after the meaty adventure began, the restaurant space transformed from an old office building is in search of a new tenant.
Given recent trends, there will likely be a taker. The most recent example of new blood being pumped into the system comes on North Broadway where CHS reported a Japanese barbecue joint — Ishoni Yakiniku — is lined up to replace departed Tex Mex joint Rooster’s.
Hopefully the next new food and drink entrepreneurs don’t read the Times.
In her look at a few key closures to end 2019 centered around Capitol Hill’s Sitka and Spruce, Seattle Times restaurant writer Bethany Jean Clement documents an uneasy industry faced with this stark reality: Seattle is too expensive, and too competitive to create restaurants in the old way. “The cost of living just went up so high …” Poncharee “PK” Kounpungchart of the late Little Uncle told Clement. “You feel that squeeze. It’s good for growth, but it isn’t good for affordability.”
Clement also reports restaurateurs like Kounpungchart and Ethan Stowell face never-ending challenges hiring and training new, well-paid staff. Meanwhile, Sitka and Spruce’s Matt Dillon talked with Clement about the cost pressures that stopped him from staying the course in the Melrose Market.
The takeaways mirror what CHS learned when we talked with Dillon in October and heard from the James Beard winner about the realities of a Capitol Hill restaurant lease: a huge tax bill after the Melrose Market was sold to Regency Centers, a Florida-based real estate investment trust, for $15.5 million last year.
The Seattle Times report also includes some interesting data. Seattle’s restaurant total grew by 450 in the 2010s, with growth around 20% that number trailed the city’s 23% population increase, the total industry is a more than $3 billion business in Seattle, and the average annual sales per restaurant hit a high of 7.73% in 2015. “By the start of 2019, that figure had become a decrease of -0.2%,” the Seattle Times reports.
Meanwhile at Central Smoke, the 4,000-square-foot venue is a bit far from some of the area’s food and drink cores but it has gained a couple small and nimble neighbors along the way. The block now boasts “#pacifiquenorthwest” seafood joint L’Oursin debuted in late 2016 and Machine House’s Central District taproom turned Capercaillie Pub.
So, is Seattle’s booming restaurant scene showing signs of slowing? Sure seems so. But that probably won’t mean Central Smoke will stand empty for long.
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