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Seattle: Bow to Empire?

equinoise | Mar 6, 201512:23 PM

It is well known that Seattle has been quite friendly to more than a few locally-based multi-location dining enterprises. Douglas, Stowell, Derschang and many more proprietors of 2 + n bar/restaurants have enjoyed years of recent success, at the same that many other one-off dining ventures have failed.

The economic reasons for these proprietors to engage in empire-building are summarized in this 2013 article. There is certainly a financial logic for a restauranteur to expand.

But does being part of a restaurant empire mean that the newest outgrowth should enjoy critical acclaim and loyal patronage? Does financial success in a third venture guarantee delicious and interesting food in the fourth?

Certainly the leading daily newspaper seems to think so. Out of the Top 10 New Restaurants of 2014 named by Providence Cicero, the true majority--6 of 10--represent at least the third outpost of a consortium, including perhaps the 9th or 10th Stowell offering (Mkt.); the 6th Derschang command post (Tallulah's); and the 4th/5th Henderson annexation (Westward/Little Gull), which was closely followed by a 6th (Quality Athletics). In her write-up, Cicero invariably drops the name-brand of the proprietor, almost to suggest that his or her involvement is a badge of quality that should generate diner excitement.

To its credit the Seattle Met Top 10 was a bit more focused on relative newcomers and novel concepts, but many of the same names appear in both lists.

I must admit that I have not visited any of these newest iterations of the syndicates. By some accounts, the newer fortresses may be unique in concept or flavor. But generally speaking, I am inclined to be much less excited about visiting a 10th Stowell place than I am about trying something that is all respects new. Being part of empire affords a new restaurant security, but IMO it also tends to promote a "safe" and predictable approach to concept, flavor, and menu composition. To state it very roughly, perhaps an old dog can only learn so many new tricks.

What I cannot answer is whether Cicero's view reflects her readership: are Seattle diners as a whole predisposed to favor the latest spin-off from a usual suspect over a total newcomer? For the sake of comparison, I just looked briefly at 2014 best-new listings from Portland media, and it appeared to me that a larger portion of those with wide acclaim were the first or second ventures from their owners (e.g., Langbaan, Atuala, Maurice, Kachka).


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