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Tom Douglas Gives a Reality Check About His Restaurant Group: ‘We Are Broke’

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In a Wednesday night Town Hall, the famed restaurateur said it would be tough for even 50 percent of his restaurants to come back

Tom Douglas in an apron against a tinted background.
Tom Douglas is now looking to start from “the ground up” after temporarily closing all his restaurants.
Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen [Official Photo]

In a virtual Town Hall event Wednesday night organized by the nonprofit Seattle CityClub, chef Tom Douglas gave a candid assessment when it came to the outlook of his restaurant empire. “We went from 850 employees to five,” he said of Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen, which closed 12 out of its 13 restaurants temporarily on March 12. That was even before Washington’s stay-at-home order was announced to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since then, Dahlia Bakery — the one spot that remained open for takeout — has also temporarily closed.

When journalist Joni Balter suggested that, when the state’s stay-at-home order is lifted, many may welcome him and other restaurants back in the Downtown area, Douglas pushed back. “I’m not sure you really get it, Joni,” he said. “You don’t just come back from this. This cost $3 million just to close my businesses down. We are broke ... the reality is that it’s going to be tough for 50 percent of our restaurants to come back.”

Douglas later clarified to Eater Seattle that the $3 million mentioned includes “payroll, accrued benefits, sales tax, vendor bills, utilities, and the cost of continuing our small pilot team (the team that is ‘keeping the pilot lights on’).” He says, “We’ve paid everyone in full, for every minute they worked.”

The sobering comments during the event align with similar forecasts in recent weeks. Estimates by the National Restaurant Association suggest the industry will sustain a $225 billion loss in 2020, and that between 5-7 million restaurant workers will lose their jobs over the next three months. The federal government passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package, but it may not be enough to help workers and restaurants.

Douglas ended his time at the Town Hall by sounding a note of hope, mainly for the generosity he’s seen in the restaurant community, whether it’s feeding hospital workers and first responders or contributing funds to food banks. And he said he expects more philanthropic efforts will crop up soon to support the industry.

Douglas also mentioned some of the immediate plans for the company include a new Serious Pie to-go spot in Ballard opening April 8. “I’m looking towards the future,” he said. “We are starting from the ground up.” Douglas later told Eater Seattle this new place will be called Serious TakeOut and will feature pizzas such as wild mushroom with truffle cheese, fennel sausage and peppers, along with new oven-baked sandwiches. More details will be revealed soon.

UPDATED, April 2, 2020, 12:01 p.m.: This article has been updated to include comment from Tom Douglas clarifying the $3 million loss statement, as well as additional details about the to-go Serious Pie location.

Dahlia Bakery

2001 4th Avenue, , WA 98121 (206) 441-4540 Visit Website

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