In a stunning deal announced today, chef Josh Henderson has sold three brands from his Huxley Wallace Collective — Westward, Saint Helens, and the Great State Burger chain — to business partners Ira Gerlich and Chad Dale. And because Dale is also a partner in award-winning chef Renee Erickson’s Sea Creatures group, those restaurants are now under the same umbrella as acclaimed Bateau, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Whale Wins, General Porpoise, Bar Melusine, and Barnacle. The two restaurant groups made the sale official on July 1.
Huxley Wallace Collective, which spawned from the success of Henderson’s Skillet Street Food, remains operational, with Henderson now the sole owner of casual Kiki Ramen in South Lake Union and upscale sports bar Quality Athletics in Pioneer Square. Henderson promoted longtime employee Seth Richardson to director of operations of Huxley Wallace. With fewer restaurants to oversee, Henderson says he plans to spend more time with his two sons, Huxley and Wallace, who live on Lopez Island with their mother.
“I realized that the call of ‘empire building’ and accolades couldn’t compete with the generational and visceral impact that being a present father would have,” Henderson said in a release, also shared to Instagram. “Plus, I simply missed them and had spent long enough feeding my ego, or making choices that only involved me. I was lucky to be in a great position with all HWC had created, and able to make the decision to sell and change focus for a bit.”
Joshua Henderson has sold the majority of his restaurants in the Huxley Wallace Collective to partners Chad Dale and Ira Gerlich who will join forces with Renee Ericksons Sea Creatures restaurant group. Westward, Saint Helens Cafe, and Great State Burger were all part of the purchase, official July 1st, 2018. Huxley Wallace Collective will continue to solely own and manage Quality Athletics, Kiki Ramen, Poulet Galore, and additional projects down the line. About 11 years ago Henderson founded Skillet Street Food out of an old Airstream trailer, and from there grew that restaurant group to 4 brick and mortar locations, two street food trucks, and a nationwide food product line. In 2013 Josh moved on to found the Huxley Wallace Collective and in a span of five years created 10 more restaurants. Among those restaurants were James Beard nominations, yearly best of the city and country awards, top restaurant lists, and countless features in publications and broadcasts around the world. All the while, he had two growing boys, Huxley and Wallace, and felt a tangible desire and pull to see more of them. “I realized that the call of ‘empire building’ and accolades couldn’t compete with the generational and visceral impact that being a present father would have,” said Henderson. “Plus, I simply missed them and had spent long enough feeding my ego, or making choices that only involved me. I was lucky to be in a great position with all HWC had created, and able to make the decision to sell and change focus for a bit. ” Josh will spend half his time on Lopez Island, where his two boys reside. He will continue to also spend half his time in Seattle and abroad being the visionary leader of HWC and continuing to create and develop projects that are interesting, and add to his quality of life. Josh has promoted Seth Richardson to Director of Operations, who has been with Josh since being a sous chef at the Skillet Diner on Capitol Hill in the early 2000’s. Henderson will continue to be heavily involved in the vision, culture and identity of Huxley Wallace Collective, but Seth will be given the full reigns to steer the ship and be the one guiding on a daily basis.
Beyond the time-suck of managing a sprawling empire, Henderson’s once-expansive portfolio, which added a staggering 10 restaurants in five years, has taken some hits lately.
Waterfront favorite Westward, a frequent member of the Eater 38, continues to draw crowds, and Great State Burger has expanded its high-quality fast-food to seven locations, but Henderson closed three South Lake Union restaurants last summer: Poulet Galore, Cantine, and critically acclaimed passion project Vestal, after a revamp failed to rejuvenate it.
And last year, Kiki Ramen was replaced another Henderson restaurant well-received by critics but not by South Lake Union diners, daring taqueria Bar Noroeste.
Yet despite the apparent difficulties of expanding so rapidly over the past years, Henderson is already planning a new casual restaurant. He says he isn’t yet ready to share additional details about it.
Erickson, a nationally renowned empire-builder herself, was originally skeptical of taking on any additional properties, according to a separate release. “We have so much happening this year at Sea Creatures, that when Chad first brought up the idea of us making room under our roof for Westward, Saint Helens Cafe, and Great State Burger, I told him ʻNO! Are you out of your mind!?ʼ But when I really considered the idea, it made total sense. I couldnʼt be more excited,” she said.
Sea Creatures remains busy indeed: The group recently expanded its General Porpoise doughnut shop to Pioneer Square and is working on another in Laurelhurst. It’s also opened a multifaceted Amazon Spheres venture, Rana e Respo, whose three dining options — a General Porpoise cafe, a salad counter, and a sandwich shop — are available only to Amazon employees. And a public venture in the Spheres, Wilmott’s Ghost, will serve Italian food starting in late summer or early fall 2018.
Sea Creatures says it will put its own touches on the former Huxley Wallace restaurant menus and decor, but not necessarily right away. “We want to take our time to get know all the talented people working at these restaurants,” Erickson said in the release. “Theyʼre the experts, and they know whatʼs working really well and shouldnʼt be changed and what needs improvement.”
- Three of Josh Henderson’s Restaurants Will Migrate to Renee Erickson’s Group [Seattle Met]
- Josh Henderson on His Rapid Expansion Plans, Including a New Market Called ‘Cone & Steiner’ [ESEA]
- Josh Henderson Preparing a Ramen-Themed Do-Over for Bar Noroeste [ESEA]
- Josh Henderson Pulls the Plug on Vestal, Poulet Galore, and Cantine [ESEA]
- Renee Erickson’s Anticipated Italian Restaurant Is Called Willmott’s Ghost [ESEA]
- Huxley Wallace Collective [Official]
- Sea Creatures [Official]
- All Coverage of Renee Erickson [ESEA]