Words by Bruce Mc Michael
Photos courtesy of Canlis
Every year two Seattle US-based restaurateurs head to the beach. Brothers Brian and Mark Canlis take six of their section heads, pop some beers and let the ocean breeze blow in new, imaginative ideas for the following 12 months. “We reinvent the Canlis’ concept every year. We don’t just think outside of the box, we smash it” says Brian. “Canlis doesn’t sell nostalgia, we act and behave like a brand-new restaurant every year,” he says of Seattle’s most formal dining rooms, a 70 years old institution of fine dining. One of the beach party is an art director, employed to create logos, menus and put the company’s vision into graphic form.
Creativity is the lifeblood of Seattle a city where locals pride themselves on independent thinking, innovating and being early adopters of new tech. Canlis is one of the most successful operations to capture the Corona virus zeitgeist, a direct result of that time spent on the beach. “Each year all our directors travel the world to learn from the best. We seek out culinary, design and service inspiration. For example, last year one of us visited Mauro Colgreco’s amazing Mirazur restaurant in Menton, France” says Brian.
When the Corona virus struck “we had to rethink what we as fine dining destination offered and how to flex our creative muscles to meet the challenge” says Brian. These muscles had had many years of training, a feature now led by a director with the envious title of Special Agent. And who wouldn’t that on their business card? Ditching the $135 (Euro 125) tasting menus, Canlis now offers menu options at around $60 with deliveries including Applewood-grilled hangar steak with chimichurri sauce; dry-aged duck cassoulet, and Dungerness crab cakes with a spicy remoulade.
Annie Cheng, founder of Seattle-based bespoke travel company The Table Less Traveled, says: “There was a huge immediate shift, and what we recognised was that sadly, some of our city’s most beloved restaurants were overwhelmingly reliant on tourism”. Focussed on an evening service, “we decided to open up for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says Brian. “Within 72 hours three new menus were created, priced and ingredients for a morning bagel shed for breakfast, a burger drive-thru for midday crowd lunch and a delivery service to replace the traditional dinner service. Our Art Director designed logos and had staff uniforms delivered before opening. We felt Seattleites needed some good news about their city,” he says. “We employ 115 people and were determined to not to lose one, single staffer”.
Employing Brady Williams, a young 30-something chef who last year racked up another James Beard Award for Canlis. This time it as for Best Chef in the Northwest, having been named Rising Star Chef of the Year 2017 award, while the Canlis brothers have won too many Outstanding Service awards to count. Canlis delivery customers get wine pairings, cocktail kits and CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes of produce and meat from local farms. “One of the biggest successes is our Bingo cards” says Brian. Anybody can play, cards are sent to requests and games live streamed on Friday nights. In keeping with Canlis smart dress code, diners are encouraged to wear tuxedos and sparkly dresses.
Annie’s pixalated family and friends online socialising listen to Canlis’ live-streamed piano music and admire the creativity and dedication to the city’s community that Canlis has shown. “They are an iconic restaurant, and it’s inspiring (and fun) to see how they’ve adapted during this time to support community” she says.
Canlis’ attitude of rolling innovation allowed the restaurant to retain its staff, build community and create new menus in almost no time is paying off. Looking to the future and leaving nostalgia for others suggest bookings will continue long after social isolation dining becomes social dining once again.