Serious pie pizza seattle z885af

One of T-Doug's Serious Pies.

Image: Olivia Brent

No, it’s not pizza. It's not poke either.

It’s empire-building.

In our Top 100 Seattle Restaurants, fully 26 of those that made our cut are owned by the same 11 people or partnerships. The Tom Douglases, the Ethan Stowells, the Renee Ericksons, etc.

This trend has gathered steam over the last decade, as restaurateurs have begun to realize what, around here, Tom Douglas knew first: That the money, the notoriety—therefore, the future—belong to those restaurateurs who can multiply their properties, capitalizing on economies of scale and trading on the brand of their name.

In all, our Top 100 list includes 19 empire builders who each own between two and 13 properties that we considered for inclusion in our list. (Some own more properties than that, but we only considered restaurants or takeouts—not bakeries, adjunct bars, catering operations, markets, etc. Also we counted restaurants with several locations as one, wherever they feature the same or similar names and menus.)

Did any restaurateur or restaurant group enjoy representation of 100 percent of his or her properties? Four: tellingly, all owners of just two properties. Dan Bugge of Matt’s in the Market and Radiator Whiskey (his new properties White Swan and 100-Lb. Clam opened too recently to include), Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron of Le Pichet and Café Presse, Roz Edison and Kamala Saxton of the Marination restaurants and Super Six, and Jerry Traunfeld of Lionhead and Poppy all had all of their restaurants on our list. Bravo to you. (Especially Marination, which packs a lot of addresses—including a mobile one—into what we defined as its “two” properties.)

The bigger your empire, however, the thornier it is keeping performance consistent—one of the main standards for inclusion in our Top 100. (I blog about our standards here.) Ethan Stowell, whose properties we counted at 12, only made it in for two: Staple and Fancy and Marine Hardware. Linda Derschang, owner of six, only made it in for Tallulah’s.

On the other hand, Emperor Tom Douglas, whose eligible Seattle properties counted 13, outnumbered all others with four of his properties represented—the highest number from a given restaurateur. They are Serious Pie/Serious Biscuit, Lola, Carlile Room, and Palace Kitchen. That is not a surprise, given Douglas’s great strength as an innovator. Flawless execution his kitchens generally cannot boast…but innovation? In spades.

Finally, it was another empire builder, Renee Erickson, who walked away with this year’s top prize, winning Seattle Met’s 2016 Restaurant of the Year award for her astonishing Bateau.

The lesson? Perhaps that owning lots of restaurants will almost never result in depth of greatness among all—but neither will it preclude pinnacles of greatness among some.

Experience counts for something, after all.