As the mercury rises and smoke fills the skies, the Seattle hospitality industry must brace once more for disruptions. After a scorching Thursday, excessive heat warnings are still in place for most of the area, with temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s on Friday, August 13, perhaps even breaking a city record for the month. Those conditions, together with possible hazardous air quality from incoming wildfire smoke has forced many restaurants and bars to consider closing down out of an abundance of caution, just as they did during the oppressive June heat wave.
So far, the number of closures isn’t quite as high as it was earlier this summer, when temperatures were in the triple digits and dozens of places shut down. But there have been some notable closures, including the Broadway location of Dick’s Drive-in, popular Georgetown bakery Deep Sea Sugar and Salt, Capitol Hill crepe cafe La Rue, and Phinney Ridge Cambodian bar-restaurant Oliver’s Twist. Some spots are also deciding to shut things down early, including Bakery Nouveau, Oddfellows, and Lowrider Cookie Company. And citing poor air quality, Molly Moon’s closed its walkup windows in Madrona, Columbia City, and Bellevue on Friday.
“High temperatures just add a whole new layer into operating a space where airflow and circulation is optimum,” says Oliver’s Twist owner Karuna Long. “To compound that with various kitchen appliances that generate a lot of heat, it truly makes it near impossible to work in a kitchen let alone a small establishment like ours where the square footage is minimal and you could cut the air with a knife, even with our operable garage doors.”
Reports from the previous Pacific Northwest heat wave that literally cooked shellfish on the shores of Washington’s beaches noted the once-in-a-millennium event, which experts attribute to the impacts of climate change. In a town where air conditioning isn’t necessarily a given in residential or commercial buildings, the public health risk was extremely high. In fact, a recent New York Times report on mortality data in Washington and Oregon concluded that 600 more people died during that June heat wave than would have been typical for the time of year, a total more than three times original estimates.
Hopefully, this weekend of higher-than-normal temperatures won’t take such a devastating toll. But restaurant kitchens can easily become stifling even in milder weather, and places that may be understaffed during the pandemic could be working extra hard to cover more ground. That, together with smoke entering the region from British Columbia wildfires, means that many operators will likely be watching the local weather reports closely all weekend. Last September, quite a few had to shut down outdoor dining when air quality deteriorated rapidly.
“It’s truly hard to navigate the landscape of Seattle dining during the summers,” says Long. “As unfortunate as it is, it’s almost as if I’ve become numb to the various ebb and flow from the domino effects since COVID closure. The response is almost always, ‘Of course we gotta deal with this!’”
The good news is that low-level smoke should clear out of the area by Saturday, and temperatures are forecast to dip back into the 70s by early next week, with even a chance of showers Sunday night.