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‘I will not open in Seattle again’ — Why Capitol Hill’s The Wandering Goose really closed

Earnhardt at the Goose’s 2012 debut (Image: CHS)

News that Capitol Hill bakery and cafe The Wandering Goose was closing permanently hit hard around the neighborhood and the city.

The 15th Ave E favorite’s biscuits and generous slabs of cake were a comfort and a popular neighborhood stop even through the challenges of COVID-19.

As the state is putting a new phased plan in place for reopening the economy after the latest virus lockdowns, owner Heather Earnhardt tells CHS the city needs to do more to support small businesses like the Goose.

“Our local politicians let us down honestly,” Earnhardt tells CHS. “It was impossible to acquire any funding or grants (not for lack of applying mind you) and the fact that we made it 10 months on our own doing only to-go is something I’m proud of.”

Earnhardt says that she and co-owner Mike McConnell, the founder and former owner of Caffe Vita, along with managing partner Alexandria Ladich did what they could to keep the business open through the various lockdowns and phases put in place to try to slow the spread of the virus.


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“t’s been a good journey and it’s heartbreaking considering I put everything I had into a place I really (and still do) believe in- but I had to call it,” Earnhardt writes. “I’m not a quitter but it was an impossible situation with absolutely no help from the government. I applied for as many grants as I could find. I’m a restaurant owner, not a grant writer.”

Despite the challenges, Earnhardt says she was ready to continue with The Wandering Goose.

“We are so grateful to our customers and our employees both past and present that worked with us along the way,” Earnhardt said. “It was such a fun, joyous place to work-it never even felt like work until the last 10 months honestly.”

Federal programs, along with state and local efforts have made millions of dollars available in loans and grants to businesses but many owners have found themselves awash in applications and left out of the awards. The city, meanwhile, has tried to help provide more resources including a “COVID-19 Lease Amendment Toolkit” along with Seattle’s moratorium on evictions of small businesses and nonprofits. Some owners say the city should be doing more and point to efforts like the campaign to ease the creation of outside tent and heater setups for restaurants as examples where City Hall could do more to help businesses stay open and keep workers on the job.

Meanwhile, King County health officials have said workers bringing the virus home has been one leading source of the spread of the virus in households.

Earnhardt said another possible avenue of relief led nowhere as the cafe’s landlord was not responsive to her requests for assistance. The building, also home to Ethan Stowell restaurant Rione XIII, remains under longtime family ownership.

Earnhardt says her business focus will remain far from Seattle.

“We’ve been living in Tokeland almost three years, this is where my heart is now,” she writes. “If you loved The Wandering Goose even a little bit you will fall head over heels in love with Tokeland Hotel, I promise you, it’s magical!”

She says she also has two new projects in the works — but nowhere near the city.

“Knowing what I know now about how little the local and state government cares about supporting restaurants during a mandated shut down, no I will not open in Seattle again,” she writes.


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Fed-Rep Neighbor
Fed-Rep Neighbor
2 months ago

City Council passed JumpStart in July, which allocated between $11-14MM to small business relief–and the Mayor vetoed it, forcing a delay until the Council could override in mid-August. Then she vetoed an amended 2020 budget that included the JumpStart spending plan just before the Labor Day recess, once again delaying the release of relief funds until September or October, after another veto override. Those 2-3 months might have made a big difference for businesses hanging on by a thread all summer. Let’s be specific about who did what when we complain about “local government.”

AgeofAquarius
AgeofAquarius
2 months ago

appreciate you clarifying this for readers especially as we have many who like to immediately point the finger at city council.

Rando
Rando
2 months ago

Might be important to note why the mayor chose to veto if you value the idea of a thorough analysis as you claim.

Richard
Richard
2 months ago
Reply to  Rando

Yes indeed we should – She vetoed because she thought we needed to save that money, sourced from Seattle’s ‘rainy day fund’, for real emergencies. I mean, you’re going to say I’m mischaracterizing what she said, but it’s almost verbatim.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard

Except thats not what Jumpstart was, and Jumpstart and the “rainy day” issue were unrelated.

The city council (with little/no debate) yet again tried to pass a headcount tax, this time focused on the “rich” who make over 150k/year:

https://council.seattle.gov/2020/07/06/council-passes-mosquedas-jumpstart-seattle-progressive-revenue-plan-to-address-covid-response-essential-city-services-affordable-housing/#:~:text=JumpStart%20Seattle%20addresses%20the%20immediate,employees%20with%20the%20highest%20salaries

This program was a thinly veiled attempt to build a wealth redistribution mechanic into city taxes that allow the socialist on the council to further enrich special interests they support. Nothing more, nothing less. Saying it had to do with COVID relief is complete crap when its nearly identical to a program they’ve been trying to pass for years.

You’ll also note that the reasoning behind her Veto was not “for real emergencies” it was to better pace out the spending because this would go on (hey look, its still going!) longer term and they will need the funds to be more spread out, as well as the need to figure out some mechanism to recoup the funds:

https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2020/08/03/mayor-vetoes-seattle-council-covid-relief-plan.html

But hey, what do I know.

Belltownie
Belltownie
2 months ago

JumpStart seemed to me to be mostly about raising payroll taxes on big businesses to pay for homeless and housing initiatives and a small part towards Seattle’s Green New Deal. I saw fairly little talk about much money being spent on Covid relief. I think just 20% of 2021’s JumpStart budget is going towards it. Now the Chamber of Commerce is trying to get the tax thrown out as unconstitutional, which has some legal grounds. I can understand why Durkan was cautious, because the tax might not be collected come 2022 and the city will be deeply in the red on the spending we do expecting it to be upheld. Although I think her main concern was not driving out those big businesses, which I’m less sympathetic to. Hopefully this all works out as well as it can.

ballardite
ballardite
1 month ago
Reply to  Belltownie

True – it was marketed as funding for homeless relief. At the last moment Covid relief was added by the Council.

CHqueer
CHqueer
2 months ago

It is sad but not unexpected that Capitol Hill is losing the small businesses that make it special. I am glad she is speaking up to dispel the myth that the neighborhood’s death spiral is solely related to the pandemic. The leadership void to the point of rot on the City Council has had a lot to do with it. Capitol Hill and its small businesses have been abandoned.

The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
2 months ago
Reply to  CHqueer

How is this not solely related to the pandemic?

Greg
Greg
2 months ago
Reply to  CHqueer

Absolutely right.

Hillacious
Hillacious
1 month ago
Reply to  CHqueer

Um, If it’s not the pandemic? What is it? If this wasn’t due to an economy shattering global crisis then why should local government just give money to local businesses at random? That’s called “market forces.”

You cannot have it both ways.

This is entirely due the economic impact of the Pandemic. And the pathetic incompetent responses to it by the Trump administration.

Nope
Nope
2 months ago

The landlord is being short sighted – it’s not going to be easy to re rent the unit anytime soon, so any revenue is better than zero.

The city could help by reducing property tax for units impacted which would reduce the landlords carrying cost.

Brad
Brad
2 months ago
Reply to  Nope

This is something I don’t understand. What is the motivation to take no money over some money? Maybe someone with knowledge of commercial leases could chime in?

jimh
jimh
2 months ago
Reply to  Brad

If they are gone the owner can try to rent to another business that may not have issues of being open and doing business during covid. You don’t know how much , if any, revenue the business could pay the landlord. Maybe they were asking for it to be zero while they pay staff etc… due to lower levels of revenue from the business. If they have no income then the valuation of the property goes down as the owner can get a reduction in taxes from the county assessor. If it got reduced it usually takes years after things are ‘normal’ again before the assessor finally catches up and has it valued at a proper level for current business conditions

Brad
Brad
2 months ago
Reply to  Brad

I agree. I don’t understand why landlords often seem to prefer to have no renter compared to cutting a current good tenant a break.

Marty4650
Marty4650
2 months ago
Reply to  Brad

Landlords really can’t forgive or reduce rent payments. Most need every cent to pay their loans, mortgages, taxes and insurance. If none of their costs go down they usually cannot delay or reduce rent. Just remember, they are businesses too.

Susieq1160
Susieq1160
2 months ago
Reply to  Marty4650

I’m not sure about the state of Washington but some other states prohibit the collection of late fees if a partial payment is collected. That could add up and or make an eviction more difficult if tenant was never paid up month after month.

RWK
RWK
2 months ago
Reply to  Marty4650

Yes….but….there has been an eviction moratorium in place for many months. Heather could have chosen to not pay rent temporarily, with the expectation that it would be due later.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  RWK

I don’t think that applies to commercial real estate.

Michael W
Michael W
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

It does apply to commercial real estate as well as residential.

Max
Max
2 months ago
Reply to  Brad

Any indefinite scenario where Cost > revenue is a losing proposition making some money isn’t enough, if you have no costs you don’t need revenue

Backcountry164
Backcountry164
1 month ago
Reply to  Brad

Reducing the rent on one property devalues all of their other properties.

M. Grace
M. Grace
1 month ago
Reply to  Brad

Commercial leases are often set up so that the cost of rent is based on a percentage of sales. That’s why it becomes better to close.

Facto
Facto
2 months ago
Reply to  Nope

property tax goes to the county though, Seattle does not collect property taxes https://www.seattle.gov/license-and-tax-administration/business-license-tax/other-seattle-taxes/property-tax-and-sales-tax

GrumpyTax Man
GrumpyTax Man
1 month ago
Reply to  Facto

One of the odd things about Washington is our B&O tax, which is collected on revenue, not profit. So if she was losing money but still had enough revenue to pay her employees, the state still wants its B&O money. That could be an incentive to shut down.

Why they don’t consider a moratorium program for struggling small businesses on these and other taxes is baffling. Isn’t it better for her employees to be working than to be unemployed?

Deepish Thinker
Deepish Thinker
1 month ago
Reply to  Nope

“the cafe’s landlord was not responsive to her requests for assistance.”

I assume this means they asked for a break on the rent, which implies they were paying rent, which leads to the question, why?

Stiffing your landlord is usually a terrible idea, but right now, probably an option that many businesses should be taking.

If it were me, I’d at least have tried, probably months ago, “I’m not paying rent until this is over, you can spend money to evict me and then have a basically un-leasable empty space, or you can live with it and have a viable tenant who will gladly resume paying rent when this is over.”

Sure, they may choose to play hardball, but if your facing the end anyway, what have you got to lose?

Backcountry164
Backcountry164
1 month ago

You’re joking right?? A tenant who is willing to “stiff” the landlord obviously will NEVER be a “viable tenant”. I would kick you out on principle alone. If I didn’t all of my other tenants would do the same.

I mean you do realize that the owner of the building has massive expenses associated with that property right?? Should the owner just stop paying the mortgage?? Because I can guarantee the bank won’t be kicking out any tenants, they’ll just change the locks on the doors and then auction off whatever is left inside. Including anything that the deadbeat tenant used to own…

Hillacious
Hillacious
1 month ago
Reply to  Backcountry164

Well. Now they have NO tenants. And NO income.

I am a landlord. Most landlords, unless they are foolishly over leveraged, are in a better position than blighted small businesses. They at least hold assets.

We reached out to our tenants at the start of the pandemic and made arrangements for rent shortfalls. This landlord seemingly did not.

Also. There are foreclosure moratoriums in place depending on the mortgage holder. There is assistance for landlords.

Landlord/property owners have leverage with lien holders and can work with the bank about mortgage payments. Most banks, like ours, have been very understanding.

EVERYONE has to come to some compromise and sacrifice. As landlords it’s our moral obligation to make sure there are businesses left to generate income for us.

Eli
Eli
2 months ago

I didn’t know other Western Washington businesses outside of Seattle had the luxury of funding from government agencies that our businesses didn’t. Is our city actually unique in not having offered what she needed?

Or is this just about being angry (not illegitimately) about a national-level problem, and looking for a local scapegoat?

Rose
Rose
2 months ago
Reply to  Eli

I live in Burien and we still have money to give to businesses and were extremely supportive of them. AFAIK hardly any have had to close permanently.

Eli
Eli
2 months ago
Reply to  Rose

It looks like Burien only offered grants of up to $5000 (max) per business?

https://b-townblog.com/2020/06/29/burien-small-businesses-can-apply-for-grants-up-to-5000-to-mitigate-impacts-of-covid-19/

I’d be surprised if that would have made enough of a difference to prevent an entire restaurant from shutting down.

Rose
Rose
1 month ago
Reply to  Eli

From what I know, they also helped businesses get other grants, loans from banks, and had their economic team provide 1:1 assistance to businesses

Eli
Eli
1 month ago
Reply to  Rose

And I’ll totally trust you know more than me – I just did a quick Google search!

Sara
Sara
2 months ago

This business failed because of the pandemic. Full stop. Blaming anyone else is a really ungraceful way to exit.

Bruce Nourish
Bruce Nourish
2 months ago
Reply to  Sara

Agreed, very off-putting. I’m not going to say that the Seattle city government is a particularly high functioning entity, but if any locality has written more aid checks to local businesses, or further liberalized rules around street use and outdoor dining, I’d be interested to know which one.

And it’s a shame, because I had never heard about Tokeland, and that hotel looks cute, but I’m not sure if I’ll go now.

Rick
Rick
2 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Nourish

Ya outta go. It’s a cute town. Leave your cell phone at home.

Conner Johanson
Conner Johanson
2 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Nourish

Please don’t go. You would just bring dark clouds with your negative attitude

PaulPopper
PaulPopper
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Nourish

Seattle was very late to set up rules for outdoor dining. Cities in the midwest like Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago had tons of outdoor dining options, streets closed for outdoor dining before Seattle even announced a plan for allowing restaurants to use the streets and sidewalks, and it was very limited.

Acid Jackson
Acid Jackson
2 months ago
Reply to  Sara

Yes. Please direct your anger to the federal level.

Jb Capes
Jb Capes
2 months ago
Reply to  Acid Jackson

Federal level?? Really?? How about the summer of love and a government that works to create a welfare state? Its the government’s job to help employ and succeed, not finds ways to drive them out and tax to infinity.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Jb Capes

He was talking about your worthless president more interested in getting the Fed to prop up the stock market than using that money to help restaurants and small businesses.

patrick
patrick
1 month ago
Reply to  Jb Capes

Yes if there had been better federal organization around fighting a pandemic the local covid restrictions would not have hit as hard for as long. If there had been more competence in rolling out testing at the beginning and less hesitation on doing ANYTHING, the spread would have been more controlled. Each subsequent lockdown would have been less severe and less lengthy. If they had not pretended it wasn’t a pandemic for so long, maybe we could have kept more businesses open.

All of that said, although it’s sad to see a loved bakery shut down, it is just the type of business you would expect to struggle in such times. Sometimes external forces are insurmountable, and nothing lasts forever. There small business owners are definitely suffering, but they don’t have a monopoly on it. Covid has taken much from many.

Backcountry164
Backcountry164
1 month ago
Reply to  Acid Jackson

Really?? I don’t live anywhere near Seattle. Why should my tax dollars be used to bail out a city that choose to dig itself into a hole??

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Backcountry164

Big city folks can ask the same. Without their tax revenue, where will your backcountry be?

Wyatt North
Wyatt North
2 months ago
Reply to  Sara

No it failed because these awful shut down laws…but the governors don’t seem to mind when they go to their outrageously expensive dinners while telling you to stay locked in on Christmas and watch your net worth die…curious. The virus didn’t do that.

Acid Jackson
Acid Jackson
1 month ago
Reply to  Wyatt North

Tom, you missed the point. Patrick, you nailed it. Wyatt, I really hope you forgot a “/s”.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
1 month ago
Reply to  Wyatt North

Say what you want about Inslee, but he has been one of the most well behaved governors in the country during the pandemic. You could criticize that the state’s response could have been better, but from a pandemic perspective, we have the 7th lowest death rate.

If you want to criticize the economic blow to our state, you’ll need to turn your gaze towards DC and the current government (and Mitch too!) who have consistently told America to go pound sand. Millions of people are losing their jobs and their livelihood, yet the stock market is at an all time high and the extremely wealthy are making money hand over fist. That’s a complete failure of our government and our economy and the voters made their frustrations known in November and just the other day in Georgia.

Also, you’re quick to criticize the blue state governors that stupidly violated their own lockdowns, but you don’t seem to have any criticism for the red state governors that ignored COVID or even suppressed data to maintain their economy at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

Backcountry164
Backcountry164
1 month ago
Reply to  Sara

LOL!! There isn’t a restaurant within a hundred miles of me that shut down because of the pandemic. But I live in a city and state that did everything they could to make sure businesses could stay open safely. We didn’t have to suffer through arbitrary rules and draconian authorities.
Aside for that, maybe you should read the article. She didn’t say she wasn’t going to reopen her business, she said she wasn’t going to reopen it where it was. You can call her ungraceful, just because you don’t like what she said, but she has obviously made a decision based solely on what’s best for her business. Pretending that you can stand in her shoes and understand what she’s going through is far more “ungraceful”…

Ariel
2 months ago

Oh this is the first I’ve heard of Tokeland! Adding that to my “things to do when we’re allowed to do things again” list

Ronnie
Ronnie
2 months ago
Reply to  Ariel

You’ll be Amazed
Very quiet and peaceful
The way things are suppose to be

JayP
JayP
2 months ago
Reply to  Ariel

Glad to know you are so submissive.

Ariel
1 month ago
Reply to  JayP

JayP… you have no idea how unintentionally hilarious this comment is. (Unless you’ve read my second book, in which case you do know… and the laugh is deeply appreciated.)

Scotty
Scotty
2 months ago

The Tokeland Hotel’s hotel is really nice, though some might be put off by the 1800’s of it all (shared bathrooms)…the restaurant is phenomenal!

RWK
RWK
2 months ago
Reply to  Scotty

Yes, it’s quaint and wonderful in an old-fashioned sense…and also affordable. The food, as one would expect from Heather, is outstanding!

Jules James
Jules James
2 months ago

A well-respected long-established retail businessperson spoke her peace. She said she will not open another business in Seattle due to the unhelpful nature of Seattle City Hall. It isn’t the pandemic. Credit to Ms. Earnhardt for speaking up.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Jules James

The city hall should have taxed the rich and used that fund to help restaurants.

Biscuit prince
Biscuit prince
2 months ago

The Goose will be missed dearly, thanks for all the years and to the cute queers who served us

Jimmy Kerstein
Jimmy Kerstein
2 months ago

Can’t wait to revisit the Tokeland Hotel! This special restaurant just moved to the top of list of places to go when the “good governor” turns us loose!

Nolan Black
Nolan Black
2 months ago

Didn’t they give up ownership of cafe vitta because he fired two people for giving away food they were going to throw out. And didnt they associate them selves for almost the past 20 years with the old Vita trib. Owner who was accused of rape?

KinesthesiaAmnesia
KinesthesiaAmnesia
2 months ago

Hats off to WG mgmt for saying what they likely couldn’t have said while remaining open, or else they’d get singled out and wrecked for it by people who probably weren’t customers there anyways. I personally haven’t been able to get to that restaurant or neighborhood lately since I rely on taking bus 8 there. The 8 had stabbings on it in my neighborhood and it drops me off, and has me wait at, scuzzy Williams Place Park. So long, Wandering Goose, also every other nice thing we ever had.

none
none
2 months ago

The handling of coronovirus is a federal problem, pandemics dont happen in a vacuum.

Randy
Randy
1 month ago
Reply to  none

Replying to None,
Of course pandemics don’t happen in a vacuum. Would you please elaborate on what the federal government should have done differently?

Remember, the United States is a Federation of States which largely control their local laws. The feds don’t mandate local laws in Seattle it was our Governor who issued the Covid related laws.

Each hospital, business and local government is responsible for their strategic planning. Just think how you would feel if the feds created a law saying in case of a pandemic, each citizen must have one years costs saved. Or each hospital is required to have 6,9,12 months supply of PPE in case of emergency.
The US operates an economic system of Capitalism. The best, smartest, strongest, etc business grow, prevail and sustain. Businesses which are poorly managed, lacking strategic direction, unprofitable and or not competitive will perish. Yes many businesses have perished this year, some others have flourished, some were creative, some were thrifty, some blamed others and some just gave up.
The feds are mandated to save failing businesses. The feds isn’t mandated to provide money to people who are in need. Your comment seems to imply that the Fed should operate as a welfare provider. Sorry that model doesn’t work.
Moreover, if you expect a handout in a pandemic you are living in the wrong country. Just saying

Atlas
Atlas
1 month ago
Reply to  Randy

Good luck getting a responce

The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
The Ghostt Of Capitol Hill
1 month ago
Reply to  Randy

The federal government has the power to freeze debts and mortgages and provided bi-weekly stimulus with a federal mask mandate which could have all been done on day 1. Culturally, our society doesn’t really feel responsible for helping others. This isn’t a failure of government it’s our culture that set the scene we’re living through at the moment.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Randy

What capitalism? Did you miss the handout of buying corporate bonds and pumping liquidity to the stock market? You turned a blind eye to how the Fed has operated as a welfare provider to the financial system since March, and every time there was a fear of a crash. It is shameless of you to wag your finger and talk about capitalism and living in the wrong country while benefiting from handouts.

The head of the federal government turned the virus, mask wearing, and social distancing into a political issue and half of the country followed his lead. If US kept it a lot more under control now like some other countries, would small restaurants be struggling as much?

Work Address
Work Address
1 month ago

Well if we can’t cram in shoulder to shoulder at here place, let’s just go cram in shoulder to shoulder at all the same places we have been cramming in shoulder to shoulder.

All through this the large supermarkets and the big box stores have had record crowds.

Acid Jackson
Acid Jackson
1 month ago
Reply to  Work Address

Large supermarkets have done well because people are cooking and staying at home.

Big box stores are doing well because people are staying at home and investing in their experience at home.

In both of these places you can wear a mask and perform your business. Not the case with a restaurant.

Anything else?

David F.
David F.
1 month ago

Well worth the drive to Tokeland, best dining on the coast. The Hotel is pretty cool, definitely old, but very enjoyable!

Crow
Crow
1 month ago

Surprised by all the grief about losing the Goose. I had an oyster po’ boy there, there was so much biscuit and goop on it that I couldn’t taste the oysters. It wasn’t very good.

Meghan
Meghan
1 month ago
Reply to  Crow

Ummm there are no biscuits on their po’boy…I ate many there over the years (and a lot of biscuit sandwiches-The Sawmill was to die for) and they are served on a Bahn mi roll. Save your rant for a place that hasn’t succumbed to a Covid closure-WOW. I happen to work, well used to, work in a restaurant and I can tell you that for any small place like this it has been impossible to stay open. PPE equipment has skyrocketed. There was a latex glove shortage making a case of gloves go up from 30 bucks to 130 a CASE. Hard for anyone outside of the industry to understand that and the prices of to-go boxes especially if a place is using compostable products (which this place did) seriously affects your bottom line. But Seattlites will move on and just eat more food from Ethan and Tom Douglass and Renee and all of the boring white bread mediocre food without batting an eye. Too bad about The Goose. This was one of the most unique, authentic places I have ever enjoyed in Seattle. And the staff was actually friendly and cared. Shame on Seattle for letting these gems go.

Alal
Alal
1 month ago

and yet she will still vote democrat…