Canlis and Dunn Lumber sucessfully transition their businesses to a new generation of ownership

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Canlis Restaurant

Canlis
Left to right: Mark Canlis, Chris Canlis, Alice Canlis, Brian Canlis.

For 60 years, Seattle’s Canlis Restaurant has been recognized as one of the nation’s best in fine dining. It began humbly in 1947 when Peter Canlis opened his first sidewalk café in Waikiki, Hawaii. He moved to Seattle in 1950, opened the Canlis Restaurant and created a unique fine dining experience with magnificent views, groundbreaking architecture and stunning art. Since then, Canlis Restaurant has set the benchmark high as both a quality restaurant and a successful family-owned business for three generations.

When Canlis died in 1977, he left the next generation—Chris and Alice Canlis—to continue the tradition for the next 30 years. “What they added to an already famous establishment was a personal touch, a warmth, an accepting heart and soul that made the somebodies feel at home and the nobodies feel like somebodies,” explains Mark Canlis, one of Chris and Alice Canlis’ three sons.

Canlis Restaurant

Location: Seattle
Employees: 80
Website: canlis.com

“Hospitality—the art of bringing an outsider in—established this restaurant as not only a culinary destination but as a leader in the emerging service industry.”

Mark and his brother Brian took over the restaurant in 2003. They have preserved the family’s legacy while adding their own creativity and energy. “We were not born into this, but rather chose it,” Mark Canlis explains. “Sixty years after inception, we have a vision to steward this tradition into the next generation."

Under their leadership, the restaurant has seen average growth of 12 percent per year. In 2009, it was given its 14th consecutive Grand Award from Wine Spectator magazine and named one of the top 20 restaurants in America by Gourmet magazine.

“The success of Canlis is not merely that it survives as a profitable company,” says Mark Canlis. “Canlis exists to grow its brand: the belief that we should put others first by serving and investing in them through fine dining. It’s our mission statement, and it’s our only measure of success.”

Left to right: Mark Canlis, Chris Canlis, Alice Canlis, Brian Canlis.

Dunn Lumber

Dunn Lumber

Location: Seattle
Employees: 300
Website: dunnlumber.com

In 1882, when Albert Dunn was just 13, he ran away from home in Rhinelander, Wis., to become an apprentice in a hardware store. He would eventually be a partner in that business and wed Mary, the daughter of a local sawmill owner. He formed Dunn Lumber in 1907 as a shake and shingle wholesaler, and three years later, moved to Seattle where the timber industry was booming.

Mary, a former schoolteacher, made sure her children received a good education, and all five graduated from the University of Washington. The two oldest boys, Charles and Ed, majored in forestry and took jobs with a lumber retailer in California, later returning to Seattle to launch their own business under the Dunn Lumber name.

During the Great Depression, many businesses that had extended credit to customers collapsed when their customers went bankrupt. To survive, the brothers cut their salaries in half and took the then-radical step of accepting only cash payments. At first, business declined, but the approach kept the company alive. It also survived a devastating fire in 1938 when its entire 18,000-square-foot sales and distribution facility was rebuilt in only 12 days. The store has become known as the best place for getting quality advice and materials, helping it survive the advent of big-box stores like Home Depot.

Dunn Lumber is now run by third-generation Ed, Rob and Tom Dunn and fourth-generation Mike Dunn. Mike, like his father and uncles before him, began working at the company as a teenager. In 1969 at age 13, Mike started in sales, which prepared him for his current role as president.

“Working your way up through the business was certainly required,” Mike Dunn says. “Like a lot of family businesses, family members filled in roles that fit their strengths.”

Mike Dunn says his father never required him to join the company, and he feels the same way about the next generation. “We’d love to have them join the business,” Mike says. “But my dad didn’t pressure me, and I won’t pressure them.”

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