It's been a busy month for the HuxleyWallace Collective and executive chef Josh Henderson, who already own and operate Wallingford's Westward and Pioneer Square's Quality Athletics. In the last four weeks, HuxleyWallace has opened four new restaurants, two Downtown and two in the more residential neighborhood of Laurelhurst. (The company is also set to open at least three more businesses in South Lake Union by July.) The concepts range from an all-day cafe and bistro to quick-service burger joints, to a taqueria/bar featuring decidedly modernist cooking techniques.
Here's a quick rundown. Bar Noroeste and Great State Burgers are located Downtown in the new Amazon Doppler building. Noroeste is the most interesting of all the new concepts, serving tacos, sandwiches, and ceviches featuring unexpected preparations of locally sourced ingredients, including mushroom al pastor tacos (on tortillas made from organic corn grown on the Olympic Peninsula) and a guacamole that's made from, um, eggplant. Great State Burgers is a Pacific Northwest take on the classic American burger joint: grass-fed beef, crinkle-cut fries, organic milkshakes, and locally brewed beers, all served in compostable packaging.
Over in Laurelhurst, there's another Great State Burgers (apparently, the company plans to open as many as ten of these puppies by the end of this year—stay tuned). There's also St. Helens Cafe, an all day (and late night) restaurant.
While the rapid expansion of Henderson's restaurant empire might seem dramatic, he's certainly not alone. As I reported last fall in this feature, "When Five Restaurateurs Own 40 Restaurants, What Does That Mean for Seattle's Dining Scene?," quite a few Seattle chefs, including Tom Douglas and Ethan Stowell, continue to add new restaurants at a steady clip. Most of these restaurants coincide with the construction and development of new buildings around the city, the owners of which are looking for retail businesses to occupy space on the ground floors. As Ethan Stowell, who owns thirteen restaurants, said, "Restaurants are traditionally risky businesses. And building owners are looking to mitigate their financial risk as much as possible. So they go with those of us who have a proven track record. So yes, there's more opportunity for us over small start-up restaurants. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I don't know."
Successful chefs and restaurateurs are setting new industry standards for pay. Since last May, when Renee Erickson eliminated tipping, implemented a 20% service charge, raised all wages to $15 an hour, others have followed, including Tom Douglas, Matt Dillon (whose newest restaurant Upper Bar Ferd'nand does not accept tips), Jerry Traunfeld (his latest restaurant, Lionhead, is tipless), and now Josh Henderson. As required by law, menus at Bar Noroeste and St. Helens Cafe include a note explaining the 20% service charge, all of which is "distributed to our team in the form of wages, benefits, and revenue share." (Henderson told Eater Seattle that eventually all of his restaurants will switch to the service charge.)
But it's not just chef-owned businesses that are dropping tipping here in Seattle. Last month, local restaurant and brewery chain The Ram dropped tips and implemented a 19 percent service charge. And beginning March 21, fancy steakhouse El Gaucho its sister restaurant Aqua will replace tipping with a 20 percent service charge.
As we see more restaurants move towards service charges, it's important to keep in mind the there are some very specific and complicated legal aspects to them. Unlike tips, restaurant owners aren't legally obligated to distribute service charges to employees—but they are obligated to disclose on menus or receipts what percentage of a service charge goes to workers. I waded through all these confusing details last May, so for more information on how service charges work, read this.