Restaurant Business: It's a Feeding Frenzy


Every time you and I go out to dinner, we’re getting into the restaurant business. We weigh the question of independent or corporate, modern or traditional, glamorous or cozy, exciting or predictable. 

And, more and more, we visit a chain restaurant. The world’s second-biggest restaurant group (after McDonald’s), with 22,000 stores worldwide, is headquartered in Seattle. That would be Starbucks, but the word “chain” doesn’t appear anywhere on its website. In industry speak, it’s a MUFSO: a multiple-unit food-service operator. In Seattle, there are more MUFSOs than you might imagine — managing some 200 restaurants — and more keep popping up.

What’s driving the explosion? Well, every crane on the Seattle skyline represents a construction project, and every developer wants the project to have a signature restaurant. So landlords are chasing hot chefs as well as proven concepts. About half of Seattle’s leading restaurant groups are headed by, for want of a better term, “celebrity chefs.” These are culinary professionals who made the entrepreneurial transition from cooking in someone else’s kitchen to running their own show. And did it again and again. The others are restaurants that grew out of smaller operations but have since evolved into “corporate families.”

All are a vital part of the economy, upping Seattle’s attractiveness while creating thousands of jobs. Here’s a closer look at a dozen restaurant groups that operate at least five properties each.

Huxley Wallace Collective
P.O Box 91302, Seattle

Uou can’t pin a label on Josh Henderson, who is the “next big thing” on the Seattle restaurant scene. He began with a single food truck, Skillet, which morphed into two diners (Capitol Hill, Ballard), a catering company and a hamburger garnish called Bacon Jam. Skillet Street Food is now a freestanding company with its own CEO and culinary staff. Henderson embraces creativity that doesn’t see food as high art but as everyday craft — “a new story about what Northwest cuisine is all about.” Properties: Two more independent ventures, Cone & Steiner General markets (Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square) and The Hollywood Tavern (Woodinville), preceded the formation of Henderson’s current company, named for his sons. Huxley Wallace’s two hot spots are Westward (North Lake Union) and Quality Athletics (Pioneer Square). Target audience: Neighborhood residents, tourists, sports fans, food lovers. 
Employees: 50 to 75 (for Westward and Quality Athletics only). Future: Henderson has brought back from Chicago a former associate, Eric Rivera, to help break out with a blizzard of new projects. Poulet Galore (South Lake Union) is envisioned as a rotisserie chicken “window” that will serve whole or half chickens with a choice of sauces. Great State is the name for Henderson’s classic burger joint set for Ravenna. Saint Helens will be an all-day brasserie serving pastries and espresso next door. Noroeste is envisioned as having a small, curated menu of tacos, ceviches, braised meats and salsas for a focus on a sexy late-night bar scene, also in South Lake Union. 

Matt Dillon/ The Corson Building
5609 Corson Ave. S, Seattle

The driving force of this family of restaurants is Matt Dillon, a passionate forager and two-time winner of the James Beard award, in 2007 as Best New Chef and 2012 as Best Chef Northwest. His current ventures put him at the center of the movement to revive Pioneer Square with innovative restaurants. As his spokesman put it, “We place high value on our community of farmers, purveyors, winemakers, fishermen, artists. We work hard to celebrate this community through food and the nourishment it provides.” Properties: Sitka & Spruce and Bar Ferd’nand (Capitol Hill), The Corson Building (Georgetown), Bar Sajor and The London Plane/The Little London Plane (Pioneer Square). The Old Chaser Farm on Vashon Island provides some of the group’s provisions and serves as an event venue as well. Target audience: Neighbors and other members of the local food community. Employees: 90. Future: A second Bar Ferd’nand is opening later this year as part of the Chophouse Row project on Capitol Hill. 

Ethan Stowell Restaurants

2622 NW Market St., Seattle

Ethan Stowell’s goal is to grow through a variety of options and price points with “downtown” restaurants in Seattle neighborhoods. Meantime, Stowell is creating production efficiencies within the group (a commissary kitchen to produce labor-intensive desserts, for example), plus accounting and bookkeeping, community relations staff; private events. Properties: Goldfinch Tavern (downtown Seattle), Staple & Fancy, Chippy’s and Ballard Pizza Company (Ballard), Frelard Pizza Company (Fremont), Rione XIII, Bar Cotto and Anchovies & Olives (Capitol Hill), Tavolàta (Belltown), How to Cook a Wolf (Queen Anne), Mkt. (Green Lake), Red Cow (Madrona). Target Audience: People who have the disposable income and the desire to go out a couple of times a week, 30 to 60 years old, not uberwealthy but in the top 40 percent. Employees: About 250. Future: Brambling Cross Tavern, a gastropub in Ballard, was awaiting a summer opening date at press time. 

Tom Douglas Restaurants
2030 Fifth Ave., Seattle

The best decision Tom Douglas ever made, industry observers say, was to hire Pamela Hinckley as CEO. She had worked for the company as a manager before leaving to run Theo Chocolate. Douglas already had a culinary wizard — Eric “ET” Tanaka — running operations; hiring Hinckley freed Douglas up to do what he does best: just be Tom Douglas (and be named Best Restaurateur in America by the James Beard Foundation in 2012). Properties: Palace Kitchen, Lola, Dahlia Lounge, Cantina Leña, Tanaka San, Assembly Hall Juice & Coffee, Home Remedy (downtown Seattle), Etta’s and Seatown (Pike Place Market), Serious Pie (downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill, South Lake Union), Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern (South Lake Union), plus a cooking school, a bakery (Dahlia Bakery), an event space (Palace Ballroom) and a farm

in Prosser. Target Audience: You can’t sustain a dozen restaurants on local patronage alone, and most Tom Douglas restaurants are within a short walk of major downtown hotels. It also doesn’t hurt that two of his most popular spots, Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern, are in the very heart of South Lake Union’s Amazon country. The restaurants share a high-energy ambience with great attention to details of service. They may have a reputation among local food snobs as being too “corporate” but that criticism misses the point. Visitors want a strong element of predictability when they leave their hotel rooms. Employees: 800-plus. Future: The Carlile Room opened this summer across from the Paramount Theatre. 

Schwartz Brothers Restaurants
325 118th Ave. SE, Bellevue

Started in 1970 by Bill and John Schwartz with the opening of the Butcher Restaurant in Bellevue, Schwartz Brothers Restaurants operates on this simple philosophy: “Listen to your customers; they’ll tell you what they want.” Today, the company focuses on high-end dining — its Bellevue Daniel’s Broiler has the second-highest check average in the state — in tony settings. Properties: Daniel’s Broiler Prime Steaks & Chops (South Lake Union, Leschi, Bellevue), Chandler’s Crabhouse (South Lake Union), Spazzo Italian Grill & Wine Bar (Redmond), Gretchen’s Shoebox Express (catering) and Schwartz Brothers Bakery (Renton, Seattle). Target audience: Neighbors (and their out-of-town visitors). Employees: 350. Future: “We’re always looking for new restaurant locations,” a spokesman says. “We’re very selective, so it has to be the right fit.” 

Opper Melang Restaurants
2219 NW Market St., Seattle

Nathan Opper was a home builder in Michigan before moving to Seattle. Zak Melang, a bass player, came here from North Carolina to play music but wound up in the restaurant business (Floyd’s Place, Ten Mercer). The duo hit it off and transformed a little bar in Ballard into the first iteration of The Matador. Properties: The Matador (Ballard, West Seattle, Redmond, Tacoma, Boise), Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen and Ballard Annex Oyster House (Ballard), Casa del Matador (East Portland, Northwest Portland), Southland Whiskey Kitchen (Northwest Portland). Target audience: Neighborhood 20-somethings, young families in vibrant urban settings. Employees: 500. Future: “Significant new growth” within the coming year. 

Mackay Restaurant Group
2701 First Ave., Seattle

“A night to remember” is the objective at Mackay restaurants. It certainly doesn’t hurt El Gaucho’s image that it was known as a late-night haunt of Seattle’s pro basketball stars. Properties: El Gaucho (Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Portland), Aqua by El Gaucho (Seattle waterfront). Target Audience: People seeking “a place for celebrations.” Employees: 350. Future: Mackay wants to add floors to the inn it operates above its Belltown flagship El Gaucho and incorporate a roof garden. 

John Howie Restaurant Group
205 108th Ave. NE, Bellevue  

John Howie got his start at Restaurants Unlimited in the Rich Komen heyday and absorbed its ethic of unexpected hospitality, inspired cuisine and memorable dining experiences. Howie also maintains a strong association with the National Football League through the Seattle Seahawks. Properties: Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar (Bellevue), John Howie Steak (Bellevue), Sport Restaurant & Bar (Seattle), Beardslee Public House (Bothell), Adriatic Grill (Tacoma). Target Audience: Neighborhood residents, out-of-town visitors. Employees: 320. Future: Beardslee Public House in Bothell, opening this summer, will seat more than 300. It’s also the site of Wildwood Spirits Company, Howie’s venture with longtime wine director Erik Liedholm, who qualified as a master distiller in the course of building the facility. 

Consolidated Restaurants
814 Second Ave., Seattle

The company was founded in 1951 by David Cohn as Barb’s, at Fourth Avenue and Seneca Street, in downtown Seattle. There were a dozen Barb’s restaurants before Cohn opened the Polynesia on Pier 51 in 1962. At that point, Barb Enterprises was the largest owner-operated restaurant company in the Northwest. In the 1970s, Barb’s gave way to two landmark restaurants under the Consolidated banner, the Metropolitan Grill and Elliott’s, and David Cohn’s son, Ron, took the reins. Short of a private venue like the Rainier Club, there’s nothing that says “tradition” in Seattle like The Met. And nothing says “seafood” like Elliott’s. Properties: Metropolitan Grill (downtown Seattle), Elliott’s Oyster House and Café 56 (Seattle waterfront), Wing Dome (Greenwood, Kirkland), Steamer’s Seafood Café (Tacoma), Quincy’s Charbroiled Burgers (Seattle Center). Target audience: The Met is a vast steakhouse with almost 400 seats for “power diners,” downtown hotel guests, special occasions and large group events. Elliott’s, which closed for almost a year to allow for construction of a new sea wall on the waterfront, is almost as large and appeals to tourists, downtown residents and downtown business people. Employees: 300-plus Future: The former McCormick & Schmick’s space downtown will become Heartwood Provisions, featuring “inspired contemporary American cuisine.” 

Ivar’s Inc.
1501 Western Ave., Seattle

Founded to feed visitors to Seattle’s original aquarium, Ivar’s has grown and grown. Typically, diners frequent half a dozen restaurants, but Ivar’s customers stay close to home, visiting every 10 days and spending half their dining-out dollars at Ivar’s. The company donates generously to local organizations and provides full benefits to its employees, who stay with the company an average of 20 years. Properties: Ivar’s Acres of Clams (Seattle waterfront), Ivar’s Salmon House (North Lake Union), Ivar’s Mukilteo Landing (Mukilteo), Ivar’s Seafood Bars (23 locations throughout Washington), Kidd Valley (seven locations in the Seattle area), plus seven stadium locations. Target Audience: Local businesses (“because everyone needs a lunch break”), neighborhood residents, predominantly families; out-of-town visitors at certain locations. Employees: More than 750. future: The recent Pier 54 remodel for Acres of Clams represented a $20 million investment. Next up: the Ivar’s Seafood Bar in Burien, plus menu enhancements, such as limited-time offers featuring seasonal catches like deep-water halibut, Copper River salmon and Quinault River Coho. 

Anthony’s Restaurants 
10502 NE 37th Circle, Kirkland

Budd Gould with a day job at Seafirst Bank went looking for business opportunities. His first venture was a steak-and-lobster concept in Bellevue called The Fox Restaurant, followed by a prime rib house called Mad Anthony’s. In 1976, Gould opened a third spot on the Kirkland waterfront, Anthony’s HomePort, and it proved to be a home run. A dozen similar spots would open within the following decade, featuring waterfront locations and fresh seafood. The total number of properties is now approaching 30. Gould started his own seafood company at Pier 91 in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood to supply the restaurants. Properties: Anthony’s HomePort (Ballard, Des Moines, Edmonds, Everett, Kirkland, Olympia); Anthony’s at Cap Sante Marina (Anacortes); Anthony’s at Columbia Point (Richland); Anthony’s at Gig Harbor; Anthony’s Pier 66 (Seattle waterfront); Anthony’s at Sinclair Inlet (Bremerton); Anthony’s at Squalicum Harbor (Bellingham); Anthony’s at Spokane Falls (Spokane); Anthony’s at Point Defiance (Tacoma); Anthony’s at the Old Mill District (Bend, OR); Budd’s Broiler (Richland); Harbor Lights (Tacoma); Chinook’s at Salmon Bay (Fishermen’s Terminal); Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill (Bellingham, Olympia); Anthony’s Woodfire Grill (Everett); Anthony’s Seafood Grill (Lynnwood); Anthony’s Beach Cafe (Edmonds, Spokane); Anthony’s Bell Street Diner (Seattle waterfront); Anthony’s Fish Bar (Seattle waterfront, Lynnwood); Little Chinook’s (Fishermen’s Terminal). Target Audience: Though all restaurants share a menu with the same focus on fresh seafood, each Anthony’s property is designed to become part of its local community. Employees: 1,250. Future: Budd’s Broiler opened in June in Richland and marks Anthony’s return to the steakhouse concept. Anthony’s also plans new restaurats in Anacortes and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. 

Duke’s Chowder House
7858 Green Lake Drive N, Seattle

Widely known for its award-winning clam chowder, Duke’s in six months will celebrate its 40th anniversary as one of Seattle’s seafood mainstays. Duke Moscrip opened his first restaurant in February 1976. Duke’s son, John, is now a co-owner. Together, the Moscrips continue Duke’s practice of serving only 100 percent sustainably caught wild seafood. Properties: Duke’s Chowder House (West Seattle, Green Lake, Kent, South Lake Union, Tukwila, Tacoma). Target Audience: Neighborhood seafood (and burger) lovers. Employees: 200. Future: Duke’s is activley looking for an opportunity to return to the Eastside. 

Table Talk

The restaurant industry in Washington state is ubiquitous — a pizza parlor on every streetcorner — but also fragmented: 14,000 locations, most of them relatively small (think strip-mall noodle shops, roadside burger stands, franchised taco joints). Overall, Washington restaurants employ almost a quarter-million people (an average of 15 per restaurant), ring up more than $10 billion in sales, pay $4 billion in wages and contribute $1 billion to the state’s tax coffers. — R.H.

Wait! There’s More!

What about Azteca? And Cactus? We didn’t forget. But we have limited space, so here’s a brief look at five more restaurant groups based in Seattle, one dating to the 1970s (Azteca), the others more recent arrivals.
Azteca Mexican Restaurants: Azteca (21 locations in Washington, 27 overall)
Cactus Restaurants: Cactus (South Lake Union, West Seattle, Madison Park, Bellevue, Kirkland) 
The Derschang Group: King’s Hardware (Ballard), Bait Shop, Linda’s Tavern, Oddfellows Cafe + Bar, Smith and Tallulah’s (Capitol Hill)
Heavy Restaurant Group: Purple Cafe and Wine Bar (Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville), Barrio (Capitol Hill), Lot No. 3 (Bellevue), The Commons (Woodinville)
James Weimann/Deming Maclise: 
Bastille, Stoneburner and Macleod’s Scottish Pub (Ballard), Rheinhaus and Poquitos (Capitol Hill) 

Related Content

The restaurants may reopen next spring

The restaurants may reopen next spring

Amazon is reportedly seeking gig workers to shop for and deliver food

Amazon is reportedly seeking gig workers to shop for and deliver food

Voter registration training will take place over Zoom Friday, Sept. 18

Voter registration training will take place over Zoom Friday, Sept. 18

Whole Foods ranked high in areas such as mask use, sanitizing and enforced social distancing

Whole Foods ranked high in areas such as mask use, sanitizing and enforced social distancing