Dick's Drive-In President Jasmine Donovan spent quarantine driving all over the Eastside. “Bothell down to Issaquah, to Sammamish,” she recalls. She was on the hunt for the next Dick’s Drive-In location, and found it squeezed in between retailers and a temporarily-dark movie theater in Bellevue. The next Dick’s site will be at the Crossroads Shopping Center, a '90s-style mall in the suburbs, and is slated to open before the end of the year.
This is a weird time to open a restaurant, Jasmine acknowledges. But despite the pandemic, Dick’s has managed to reach some level of stability. That allowed them to make good on an old promise that once new locations opened north and south of the city, they’d expand eastward.
The suburban growth of the last few years has helped keep the company going as foot traffic fell at formerly-popular spots like Capitol Hill and Queen Anne.
“Broadway has been one of our hardest-hit locations,” Jasmine says, citing the drop in commuters, entertainment, and nightlife. “Broadway and Queen Anne are really not doing well, business-wise.”
That may be alarming for Dick’s fans to hear, particularly given an interview from 2019 in which Jasmine said that the company’s focus “is to move outside the city at this time.”
But don’t worry — she says she was talking about shifting the company’s focus on expansion outside the city, not on moving existing burger stands, and seemed surprised by the suggestion that the company would ever leave Seattle.
“We’re not closing any locations,” she says. “We hope. I expect business to come back.”
That’ll require a re-opening of bars, sports and music venues, and workplaces that switched to work-from-home a year ago. Transit ridership is vital as well, she says, particularly on Capitol Hill: “It used to be every few minutes a train full of people gets dropped off.” (The decline in transit ridership won’t be as much of a factor in Bellevue; the new location is designed for private cars, and even when light rail opens in 2023, the Overlake Village station will still be a 20 to 30 minute walk away.)
Dick’s estimates that they’ll be hiring for nearly 50 positions when the new place opens, with benefits that include a scholarship and employer-paid health insurance for people working at least 20 hours a week, and wages starting at $17.
The company has been resistant to raising wages in the past. In 2014, Jasmine said that raising wages from $10 to $15 could force the company to increase prices and eliminate employer-paid health insurance. But Seattle set the minimum wage at $15 that year, and since then, the company increased burger prices slightly (at the priciest locations, a deluxe is $4) and expanded eligibility for employer-paid health insurance from 24 hours a week to 20.
What’s more, Jasmine’s brother Saul Spady was a vocal opponent of the 2017 proposal to tax large employers to fund housing services. Spady, a former conservative radio host on KTTH, called for unhoused people with substance abuse issues to be placed in “farm jails.”
But although Saul has spoken about how local policy impacts Dick’s, Jasmine says he’s not a part of the company. “He owns his own marketing company,” she says, “and we work with that company.”
For Dick's lovers, the good news is that the minimum wage increase hasn’t stopped Dick’s from opening multiple new locations.
“It’s working here because we can charge prices that go with paying our employees that way,” Jasmine said. “Customers continue to come see us, and we’re still able to be some of the lowest price options for the food we serve out there.”
And though the pandemic has taken its toll, the company’s well-positioned to expand, she says. There’s some uncertainty about how long the construction on the new location will take, particularly as it’s one of the few locations that the company leases rather than owns.
Obviously, it can be a bit more challenging to open a business when certain factors are out of your hands, whether it’s public health or minimum wage requirements. So far, Dick’s has defied the occasional dire prediction.