EVERETT — There was no special on Monday’s menu — a red flag for Linnea Covington, a regular at The Sisters Restaurant in downtown Everett since it opened in the 1980s.
Known for daily specials, the funky, venerable restaurant is Covington’s go-to lunch spot.
“When I didn’t see one on the menu, I wondered if something was up,” said Covington, who works two blocks away.
The next day, on Tuesday, Sisters served what might be its final bowl of black bean chili, its final nut burger, and sent possibly the last slice of chocolate walnut pie out the door in a cardboard box.
In an effort to contain the rise in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Jay Inslee last week ordered new restrictions, including a four-week ban on indoor service at bars and restaurants, which took effect Wednesday and continues through Dec. 14.
Now Sisters, which opened as a small cafe in 1983 — cooked up by sisters Gretchen Quall, Jennifer Quall, Victoria Quall and Kathleen Pedigo and their mother, Martha Quall — faces an uncertain future. Earlier this year, the 37-year-old restaurant closed for three months in response to a statewide COVID-19 lockdown.
It’s not clear this second closure will stick.
Owner Martha Quall said she hopes the Everett counter-service restaurant can reopen next year.
To pause or not to pause, that is a question many restaurant owners are asking themselves as they are unable to seat customers this holiday season.
“My mom wants to keep our options open for potentially opening up again after the new year,” said Gretchen Quall, one of the sister chefs the restaurant is named for, “but for now” they’re closing, “for sure until the end of the year.”
Industry groups say the month-long ban will further damage an already floundering industry.
In a letter to state lawmakers, Julia Gorton, director of government affairs for the Washington Hospitality Association, wrote that “another shutdown of the hospitality industry will put 100,000 employees out of work overnight, right before the holidays – this time, without enhanced federal unemployment benefits.”
On Friday, Inslee unveiled a recovery package that includes $70 million in grants for restaurants, gyms and other businesses affected by the pandemic, in addition to another $30 million in loans. However, he spurned a request from a group of Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, to allow restaurants and bars to operate at 25% capacity.
“The best relief would be to open up restaurants and let people go back to work,” Anthony Anton, CEO of the hospitality association, told The Daily Herald.
“We were already projecting that 35% of restaurants would go out of business in the next 12 months. This is just going to make it worse,” Anton said.
Carlene Warren, owner of the Double Barrel Wine Bar and Lounge in Snohomish, hopes the four-week prohibition “really is four weeks and won’t be extended.”
“We’re revamping our menu to be more take-out friendly,” Warren said. “We’ll have different entrees — things that are easier to re-warm and travel well.”
Those changes aren’t a fool-proof recipe for survival.
An outdoor tent, which serves as the restaurant’s dining space, is a less desirable option for customers as the weather turns colder and wetter, she said.
“We’ll give it a try for a week or two,” Warren said. “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll close.”
Out of a job
Restaurant worker Burton Clemans lost his job last week.
Clemans has worked at Sisters Restaurant in Everett for the past eight years.
“I’m going to miss all of our regulars something fierce,” said Clemans, who was laid off when the restaurant closed on Tuesday.
Clemans was hired as a cashier in 2012 and took on more duties as the years went by.
“At some point I started making some specials and coming up with some recipes,” he said.
Among his culinary contributions: Cuban sandwiches made with pork loin, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and dill pickle, and chicken Pad Thai.
His approach to the kitchen differs from Sisters chef Kathy Pedigo. “Kathy doesn’t have any recipes — she makes everything out of her head,” said Clemans. “I, on the other hand, have recipes with precision measurements for everything.”
Clemans is also among the many artists whose work have been featured at the restaurant, which offers a movable feast of art, painting and sculpture on the walls.
COVID-19 has emptied downtown Everett of people, said Clemans.
“We got most of our customers from the businesses in the area,” he said. County and city workers and other regular customers are absent, with many working from home.
“I think restaurants in this state are going to have a hard time coming back from this,” Clemans said.
On Tuesday, the special at Sisters Restaurant was a bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich. The chalkboard listed the dessert special in bold: home-made bread pudding with caramel sauce.
Milton Wash, a restaurant regular for 16 years who lives in the neighborhood, ordered two specials to go. “You can always depend on their good food,” Wash said.
Lucky Wash! Because he is friends with the family, he expects to continue to enjoy their home-style cooking while the restaurant is closed.
The restaurant’s bright turquoise, orange and yellow eating space and funky decor, including two brass euphoniums pinned to the vertical beams, made customers feel as if they were eating at a friend’s cozy kitchen table.
Plastic dinosaurs, sea creatures and giraffes — handed out to customers as table markers so servers could deliver their orders — added to the restaurant’s sunny ambiance.
On Tuesday, Amber Knoblich and her 5-year-old daughter, Sam, dropped by for lunch. On a 1950s-style yellow Formica table in the middle of the dining room, they scattered toys, coloring books and a laptop computer, and waited for their food.
Knoblich, another Sisters veteran, worked behind the counter up until a few years ago.
“I had never worked at a restaurant before and I was not very good at it at first,” she said. “It ended up being just like family.”
When pressed to name a favorite dish, Knoblich provided a long list.
All the cream soups, the creamy cheesy potato soup with green chilies, Thai chicken and “the sourdough bread to die for,” Knoblich said.
“It’s part of the community and the food is awesome. Sisters can’t close,” said Knoblich, shaking her head.
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: Janice Pods