Shanik, the long-desired Seattle sibling of Vij's in Vancouver, was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2012. But the elegant Indian restaurant in the heart of the Amazon couldn't sustain enough weekday customers; March 21 will be Seattle's last night of lamb popsicles and cricket parathas.
"It was just the wrong finer dining concept for that location," says Meeru Dhalwala, who opened Shanik after 20 years of creating the recipes at Vij's. While weekends were busy, she says there wasn't enough business Monday through Wednesday. Our critic Kathryn Robinson found Shanik to be a thoughtful counterpart to the more robust food at Vij's (and heaven for vegetarians).
Back when Shanik opened, Vulcan was the landlord (now it's Amazon) and was seeking a higher-end kind of restaurant to anchor a swiftly changing neighborhood. But granted the ability to travel back in time, Dhalwala says she would nix the slightly formal decor in Shanik's dining room and make its lounge more of a focal point; at 5pm all of South Lake Union is either sitting in traffic or waiting it out with a drink and some bar bites; having to walk through Shanik's dining room to get to its rear bar area was a deterrent.
Dhalwala wasn't terribly familiar with Seattle when she decided to open a restaurant here; she didn't realize this city likes its eateries casual, cozy, and barlike. And she had no idea about happy hour, which is especially huge around Amazon: "It doesn't culturally exist in Canada."
Most of the staff has been at Shanik since the start; her grief about the closure aside, Dhalwala takes a lot of pride in the food and the people who make and serve it. "It's my personal best," says Dhalwala. She and her business partner Oğuz Istif (also the chief operating officer for all things Vij's) split their time between Seattle and Vancouver. Every Wednesday, Dhalwala made the drive down to Seattle. "And never once did I not have a smile on my face."
That said, she recalls the restaurant's first three months—a combination of sky-high expectations and some serious kitchen staffing transportation struggles requiring her to work out a carpool system for cooks coming from Auburn and Kent—as the hardest of her entire life.
The staff decided upon the end date collectively and Dhalwala says every single one pledged to stay with the restaurant until then. Dhalwala wants Shanik's final month to be a joyful one, a last chance for regulars to come in: "I'm not licking my wounds and quietly leaving."
When Dhalwala was preparing to open Shanik, I emailed to ask if I could shadow her a bit and write a feature about it, never having met her. Like most people, I associated Vij's with Dhalwala's famous husband, Vikram Vij. I had no idea the gale force he is married to. The woman is both impossibly candid and impossibly charming; during our first interview nearly three years ago we discussed social responsibility, environmental stewardship, constipation, and the ugly pajamas her parents' encouraged her to wear to keep things chaste in the early days of her courtship with Vij.
For a woman who didn't know much about Seattle, Dhalwala says she has forged some deep bonds with our city. And we've been lucky to have her; she hopes to still be in the mix for things like farmers market cooking demos and classes at Tom Douglas's cooking school.
"I'm probably going to come back," she says. If she does, next time she'll know about happy hour.
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