The news that our ur-restaurateur Tom Douglas will close all but one of his 13 restaurants for the next eight to 12 weeks felt like a grim codifying of the panic and pain seizing Seattle’s hospitality industry right now. It’s an industry with notably thin margins, and zero fallback plans in a moment when the population is being urged to stay at home. Douglas’s news qualifies as earth shattering, no doubt, yet it’s only the tip of what’s to come. In many ways, his announcement feels like it paves the way for other establishments to disclose their struggles. Historically, telling a customer your business travails was a dicey move in an industry designed as an escape from customers’ everyday grind.
Douglas has always been more candid than your average restaurateur. Back in the aughts, when the chef built outward from his Northwest-seminal Dahlia Lounge into one of our city’s first restaurant empires, a lot of customers still weirdly believed a big-name chef was somehow in every one of his or her kitchens every night. Douglas cheerfully disabused people of that notion, as he appeared at one million food events and co-hosted the weekly Seattle Kitchen radio show. I still recall an interview he did with a now-defunct publication in Chicago where he laid out which of his restaurants were the most and least profitable.
Obviously Douglas and his employees are hardly alone in his fiscal suffering. My feeds are full of places shifting gears to offer carryout, assurances of regular sanitizing, and updates on limited hours. Not to mention an alarming, and growing, list of closures. I hope Douglas’s spots can all return, as he hopes, a few months from now. I hope his very public move equips other establishments to make their own survival plans. And I hope anyone who can support bars and restaurants safely in this moment of social distancing will order takeout, take advantage of specials, and just plain visit restaurants the old fashioned way as we all get our bearings.