Even before Seattle, along with many other regions, announced the forced closure of restaurants and bars, one of the city’s most well-known establishments was already a few steps ahead.
Canlis, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant known for its high-end food and even higher-end prices, announced last week, before the mandated restaurant closures, that it would be shuttering its dining room and transitioning to a to-go-only menu. Beginning today Canlis is offering takeout-only breakfast via The Bagel Shed from 8am-11am; pickup lunch via Drive on Thru from 11am-6pm; and a “Family Meal” delivery on weekday evenings.
Since I live only a few miles from Canlis I decided to swing by this morning to see how the acclaimed restaurant is navigating this transition. My first inkling that I might have gotten more than I bargained for is when I arrived just after 8am to see the cars backed up for blocks, all idling as they waited for the doors to open. Thinking walk-up might be easier (and more environmentally friendly) I parked nearby and walked up to the restaurant, where I was greeted with a very long line of individuals, all drawn to Canlis to get their bagels and see what all the fuss is about.
In a time when we’re all supposed to be social distancing and keeping six feet apart, it was a little unnerving to see so many people out of the house and waiting so close together in a line (though, admittedly, I was one of them). At first people did keep a solid amount of space between each group, but as more folks arrived the line squished. However, we were outside, so maybe people were more willing to take a risk in the fresh air.
I got in line around 8:30am and reached the front to place my order in 45 minutes. That’s a lot of time to take off of work just to grab a bagel sandwich. From the people I spoke with, everyone who was waiting for breakfast was working from home and looking for a) an excuse to get out of the house, and b) an opportunity to try food from Canlis, a dining experience that’s typically beyond their budget.
That said, Canlis’ Bagel Shop is not cheap. The menu is also pretty limited. You have the option of buying half a dozen bagels and one of three schmears, or getting a breakfast sandwich. You can’t get an individual bagel with schmear, butter, etc. Since there’s only one of me I opted for the breakfast sandwich (no sausage). That came out to just under $9, which has an automatic tip built in.
When I was in line I chatted with a Canlis staff member who told me that the day before, when they launched the Drive-Thru Only lunch option, they’d sold 1,000 burgers. He expected they would sell just as many for the rest of the pop-up.
So how was the bagel? Honestly… just fine. As someone who lived in New York I’ll admit I’m a bit of a bagel snob, but if I’m shelling out almost $9 for a breakfast sandwich I had to wait 45 minutes in the cold for from a world-renowned restaurant I’m expecting my mind to be blown. The egg was perfectly cooked (look at that yolk ooze) and the American-style cheese melted perfectly. The bagel itself had a pleasant chew but was very pale on the outside — it lacked that mahogany, crackly exterior of a well-cooked bagel. The everything topping was also quite sparse.
I left Canlis at 9:15am, bagel in hand, just as the staff had just announced that the Bagel Shop had sold out. It was meant to last until 11am. Canlis may be a well-oiled machine when it comes to innovative dining or excellent service, but it seems like even they are not immune to the difficulties of pivoting over to takeout- and delivery-only. And if that’s true, how are restaurants with fewer resources supposed to navigate this tough time?
Overall, my visit to the Canlis Bagel Shop pop-up was a pleasant excuse to leave my house and support a local restaurant. But I don’t think that Canlis is the restaurant I should be choosing to support. All restaurants, bars, and cafés are struggling as coronavirus restrictions force them to pivot to takeout or delivery-only. Smaller establishments might not have the capacity to make that shift and be forced to shut down altogether. Those are the places that need my dollars. Not Canlis.
It’s hard to fault Canlis. Like anywhere else, the restaurant is just trying to figure out creative ways to stay alive and keep its staff employed. But with such a strong reputation and storied legacy, Canlis is at far less risk of going under than, say, my neighborhood coffee shop. It’s frustrating to see so many folks flocking to buy overpriced takeaway meals (and wait for them) when some of my favorite local spots might not be able to weather the storm.
Next time, I’ll choose to support a restaurant that needs my patronage a little bit more. And doesn’t require me to stand outside for 45 minutes in the cold, and potentially risk contaminating or catching something from someone standing nearby.
If you’re looking to do the same, consider checking which of your favorite restaurants are offering takeout, or even try to buy a gift card to keep them afloat through this tough time. We’ve got this.