Chef Sam Crannell doesn’t attribute any one factor to the end of LloydMartin’s six-year run in Queen Anne.
But he knew the circumstances at hand would increasingly put the squeeze on his restaurant.
“It wasn’t a decision based off of, ‘we’re going out of business,’” he said. “It was a decision based off of, ‘we’re going to out of businesses at some point, when do we have the most control over it?’”
New Year’s Eve was the final night of service for the 30-seat restaurant, which opened to rave reviews in October 2011.
It earned a “Best New Restaurant,” nod from Seattle Weekly in 2012, in a write-up that also foreshadowed one of the challenges of it would face, sited on a stretch of Queen Anne Avenue that it called, “notoriously tough on fine dining.”
It didn’t help, Crannell said, that the span would experience a decline in foot traffic after Trader Joe’s moved from its former home on West Galer Street in mid-2014.
“We saw a massive downturn in overall foot traffic and energy on that end of the street, and there was nothing down there that really had a big enough draw to keep bringing people by,” he said.
The departure of Chocolopolis next door this past summer was another hit, but even then, he wasn’t sure the restaurant had seen a stark decline in customers. But Crannell noted that challenges facing restaurants throughout the city were making things harder. That includes the steady climb in labor costs in recent years, and he wondered how other independent restaurants like his will be able to hold on.
“I’m very fearful that the little restaurants out there and little businesses out there aren’t going to be able to absorb the costs as they rise,” he said.
He’s also noticed in change in how people eat out, less engaged in the experience itself.
“People have forgotten that going out to dinner is supposed to be fun,” he said. “It’s supposed to be — regardless of whether it’s for a hamburger and a hot dog, or if it’s coming out for foie gras, or some crazy creation —it doesn’t matter what restaurant you’re going to, it’s supposed to be about fun. It’s supposed to be about community.”
He also lamented the, “bright shiny penny syndrome,” as diners flock to what’s new.
“We are not a city of restaurants that last,” he said, noting that those in it for the long haul are few and far between.
For all those reasons — not to mention things like equipment failure and the lack of a ventilation system — the future didn’t seem promising.
“It was going to come to a point where it didn’t matter, it wouldn’t matter how many people were coming through the door,” he said, “because we weren’t open long enough and we weren’t open enough days. The formula was going to fail.”
But Crannell said the past six years were a valuable learning experience, calling it a, “really exciting time.”
And as for what comes next? Crannell said he’ll explore every possibility and take some personal time, two things he hasn’t had since opening the restaurant.
“I’m really optimistic about the future,” he said. “I don’t think I’m sad or happy or angry about the entire situation.”
He’ll continue to cook, but doesn’t yet know where. And if he opens another restaurant in Seattle, he said he’s sure it would be in close proximity to Queen Anne or Magnolia.
“I don’t think there’s any specific answer to why restaurants open and close,” he said. “But I know we stayed open for six years, and I know that we left at the top of our game.”
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