EVERETT —Snohomish County’s restaurants and bars were sizzling at the beginning of the year.
Geoff Wall, the owner of an English-style pub in Snohomish, expected 2020 to be a banner year. El Paraiso Mexican Grill in downtown Everett was looking forward to the Silvertips hockey season and hungry fans. Gabriels’ Fire in Mountlake Terrace was pulling in the lunch crowd with its barbecue.
Between 2009 and 2019, the number of restaurants in the county rose from 827 to 1,457. Gross sales more than doubled — to $953 million during the same span, according to the Washington Hospitality Association and the state Department of Revenue.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cooled those numbers, considerably.
In 2019, 27,000 people were employed in Snohomish County’s leisure and hospitality industry. The sector, which includes hotels, restaurants, bars and fast food eateries, is among the county’s largest private employers. Since the pandemic struck full-force this spring, business slowdowns and closings have resulted in hundreds, if not thousands of job losses.
City officials and city chambers, from Edmonds to Everett to Arlington and beyond, have stepped up to the plate to save local restaurants and bars.
With indoor dining space restricted, they’re offered concrete dining space.
This summer, Edmonds and Bothell were among the cities that temporarily closed some streets to vehicles in an effort to boost foot traffic for local restaurants and retailers.
In August, Everett launched the “Streatery” program that allows restaurants and bars, with a free permit, to use streets and parking spots as dining space. Arlington opened Legion Park to diners.
Restaurants, cafes and bars have tweaked their menus, added takeout, rearranged dining rooms and pushed tables and chairs onto sidewalks, and, where allowed, city streets and parking strips.
Earlier this year, when Monty Slimp learned of the threat posed by COVID-19, he put up vinyl drapes inside his restaurant.
“Our father is a retired doctor, so he knows about respiratory diseases. We wrapped the kitchen in plastic wrap,” said Slimp, who co-owns Gabriel’s Fire, a barbecue restaurant, with his brother, Gabe Slimp.
The plastic separates the kitchen from the small dining room, and forms a “kind of bubble that keeps us real, real safe,” he said.
It was one of many changes they’ve have made at the Mountlake Terrace restaurant, located at 5803 244th St. SW.
Gabriel’s Fire serves ribs, brisket, chicken, pork and traditional barbecue sides — fries, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, plus generous helpings of homemade BBQ, mustard, jerk and teriyaki sauce.
To ensure customers could still enjoy their food, the Slimps stocked up on takeout boxes.
In June, when state officials lifted a three-month ban on sit-down dining, the brothers rearranged the small dining room, blocking off tables and chairs.
Restaurants can now operate at up to 50% building capacity — but no more than five people at a single table. Tables, indoors and out, must be spaced six-feet apart.
For restaurants like Gabriel’s Fire, which had a small dining room to begin with, that doesn’t leave much space for customers.
“People still want to sit down, hang out and have a beer,” Monty Slimp said. “When I tell people the rules — that I can only seat five that’s a little tough on customers,” he said.
Business this year is down about 50%, Slimp said.
“We’re trying to go about our business. We’re still holding on,” he said.
The city of Everett recently took another step, this time to help food trucks. It turned a city-owned vacant lot into a food truck court. The Beverly Food Truck Park, at 6731 Beverly Boulevard opened this month in a trial run, said Dan Eernissee, the city’s economic development director.
Restaurants, bars, food trucks — “they’re critical businesses,” Eernissee said. “When people talk about places they want to live, they talk about the sports team, the local dining culture, the restaurants, theaters and bars,” he said.
Marilyn Rosenberg, owner of Cafe Zippy at 1502 Rucker Ave, says Everett’s Streatery program, which allows restaurants to set up dining areas on the sidewalk and street, has been a lifesaver.
“It’s been crucial. I don’t know how I would have survived without this, ” Rosenberg said of 10 outdoor tables she added, thanks to the Streatery program. Five are on the sidewalk and another five are located inside two blocked-off parking spots on Rucker Avenue — 10 tables that wouldn’t otherwise have been available for diners.
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin recently visited Cafe Zippy to check out the new outdoor dining areas. “This is a residential neighborhood — not an area where we get traffic complaints,” Franklin said of the cafe’s on-street seating.
With wet weather and winter ahead, many eateries are looking at ways to make their outdoor dining areas comfortable.
At Moe’s on Olympic, at 434 North Olympic Ave. in Arlington, owner Kaitlyn Davis has been thinking about turning up the heat.
“We have three tables outside our coffee shop,” said Davis, who opened the cafe in September 2018. “I might put up some tents and invest in heaters, so we can keep them there over the winter.’
“I would ask the city,” said Davis. “They’ve been super-flexible.”
Last month, city officials and the Stilly Valley Chamber of Commerce established the Arlington Outdoor Eatery at Legion Park. Socially-distanced tables have been set up — some with umbrellas — under the lights for dinner service.
The park gives families a place to enjoy a meal, and adds extra dining space for local restaurants.
Moe’s is one of dozen participating restaurants. “Fortunately, we were set up for takeout,” she said.
“The park is a good draw. It’s bringing in people,” said Davis, who also operates Moe’s Espresso, a drive-through coffee stand at 117 West Division St.
The drive-through has flourished, Davis said. “It’s gotten a lot of new customers because people don’t want to get out of the car.”
Since the pandemic, Moe’s on Olympic has added online ordering and curbside pickup options to its website.
The cafe serves coffee and espresso drinks, pastries, sandwiches and soups.
“We did have to cut some hours, but we didn’t have to do any layoffs,” Davis said. “We’re doing the best we can,” she said. “We’ve got a really good staff in a really good city.
The cafe’s menu will change when the cold weather arrives. “We’ll do a seasonal tomato soup with grilled cheese,” Davis said.
These days, takeout is king.
At El Paraiso Mexican Grill at 2801 Colby Ave. in Everett, takeout now accounts for 40% of orders at the downtown restaurant, up from about 10% before the pandemic, said Benjamin Guerrero, president of the family-owned chain, which includes locations in Silver Lake, Snohomish and Monroe. Everett Silvertips fans and Historic Everett Theatre-goers, which jammed the restaurant on weekends, are gone, along with city and county workers who drop in for lunch during the week, Guerrero said.
“We’ve been missing them a lot,” he said. The restaurant has kept its seven workers on staff, but has cut some hours.
Expanding takeout options, has meant adding delivery service.
That’s been a sore point.
The national food delivery chains are pricey, and some customers complain of lengthy wait times and cold food, Guerrero said.
The restaurant is considering hiring its own delivery drivers or contracting with a local delivery service.
“We’re looking for someone local, from Washington,” Guerrero said.
“We’re trying our best,” added Guerrero.
A few blocks away, Doug Hall, co-owner of The Independent Beer Bar at 1801 Hewitt Ave, would like to add another two hours to his day.
The rustic bar serves more than 16 beers and ciders on tap, but only from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., a six-hour day.
Current rules require bars and restaurant to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.
The restriction has put a damper on sales, said Hall. He is among a group of bar and restaurant owners that have signed a petition urging Gov. Jay Inslee to extend serving hours to midnight.
Sales during the summer months were half of what they were last summer, Hall said. Sales declined even further in September, he said.
“It doesn’t work for us, closing at 10,” Hall said. “That window, from 10 p.m. to 12 p.m. is a big deal for us.”
“We have eight tables inside for groups who live together and nine tables on the patio for groups who don’t live together,” said Hall. The bar also took advantage of Everett’s Streatery program.
“We’ll survive,” Hall said. “If the state could just give us two more hours, it might be more bearable.”
On Tuesday, Inslee announced that bars and restaurants can now serve alcohol until 11 p.m.
Wall, owner of the Piccadilly Circus Pub at 1104 1st St. in Snohomish, is also among those wanted the 10 p.m. ban on alcohol sales lifted.
He too has signed the petition asking the governor to extend drinking hours to at least midnight.
“Business was really good pre-pandemic,” Wall said. “January, February — were the best two months I’ve had in years. I thought this was going to be a record year.”
Wall planned to sell the pub this year and retire. Now he groused, “you can’t give restaurants away.”
The pub serves traditional English fare, fish and chip, bangers and mash, Shepherd’s pie, as well as American-style steak to salads, Hall said.
“I used to open at 11 a.m, but there’s not much business, so now so I don’t open until 4:30,” Wall said.
The pool room and karaoke stage are closed. No one plays the jukebox or pull tabs anymore, he added.
Pre-pandemic, the pub could accommodate 65 people. Under current restrictions, it can seat 24.
With the city’s blessing, Wall has erected some three-sided tents outside the pub that can seat about 20 people. “They’re clear and they’re covered and they’re going to stay up until December,” he said.
When it gets rainy and cold, “we’ll put some heaters in there,” he said.
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods