Cafe Nordo's Erin Brindley contemplates a hole where a staircase should be. Kelly O

There are only six mentions of staircases in the sprawling epic Don Quixote, but it's only taking one real-life staircase to threaten Cafe Nordo's dinner-theater version of the Cervantes classic, which will inaugurate their new space in Pioneer Square.

Nordo's new Culinarium is being built on two floors of the old Elliott Bay bookstore. A corner of the first floor will serve as their performance space, and the old Elliott Bay Cafe downstairs will be their kitchen. All they need is a staircase to connect the two. But Erin Brindley, Nordo's cofounder and artistic director, says the contractor on the job (Seattle Construction) has claimed that a citywide steel shortage means they can't finish the staircase, which means they can't open the show—which is a major problem when you've got a full cast that's been rehearsing for months. "It's not like a regular restaurant where you tell your waiters to keep their jobs for another few weeks," Brindley said during a tour of the space. Most working actors have complicated schedules—between rehearsing shows, opening shows, and day jobs, their weeks and months are a complex series of interlocking parts. "And we promised them all payment," Brindley said of the actors. "They're not happy. They're being good sports about it, but they're not happy."

This is only the latest in a series of setbacks, including permit delays and the fact that none of the kitchen equipment from the Elliott Bay Cafe was up to current codes—Brindley suspects it had been around so long, it had been grandfathered in—forcing them to install a new ventilation hood, walk-in fridge, convection oven, gas range, and the rest. "At least this works," she said, patting the old aluminum sink station, probably the least expensive piece of equipment in the room. "This is real."

Don Nordo Del Midwest, a biography of the fictitious chef Nordo Lefesczki—who has, in theory, been the invisible "brilliant megalomaniac" behind Nordo's many-course performances since 2009—has been in rehearsals since last summer. Originally, it was supposed to open in October. But permit delays and other construction issues pushed that back to November, then December, then March. (The Culinarium is under the umbrella of a larger project, spearheaded by Jones and Jones Architects, to renovate the entire century-old building that used to house the Elliott Bay Book Company, so some of the delays haven't been Nordo-specific, but have scrambled their schedules.)

"Last week we received the notice that there is a backlog on steel in the city," Nordo wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "All those cranes all over the city tell the tale. Steel is in such heavy demand that our construction company cannot get our order in in a timely fashion."

Seattle Construction did not reply to requests for comment for this story, and several contractors and unions said they've not heard about any shortages. Scott Lewis, a researcher at Engineering News Record, says the magazine has been tracking the prices of 67 different building materials in 20 US cities (including Seattle) for more than 50 years—and he couldn't find any jump in steel prices. (Though there was a small price increase for pine and fir two-by-fours.)

But Rod Tim, general manager at Custom Steel Fabricators near Columbia City, says there could be a skilled labor shortage—Seattle's building boom has kept all the capable metal fabricators he knows busy for the past year or so. "Obtaining the materials, I've not had a problem," he says. "But I could imagine a backlog of work. If you put out an ad for a skilled steel worker, you won't find one." You'll get lots of résumés, he says, but not from people who really know what they're doing. "There's a group of people who are competent at what they do, and they're all working."

Don Nordo's current opening date is April 2—nearly seven months behind schedule, which would normally be a catastrophically long time to put off a theater production. But they've managed to do it. They've lost a few people and gained a few others—Nordo tends to work with the same performers, almost like a company—and they've kept their star, Ryan Higgins as Nordo Lefesczki, even though another actor will have to cover for him for the first several weeks. (Higgins is also the star of the full-cast remount of Wayne Rawley's gallows comedy Live! From the Last Night of My Life at 12th Avenue Arts, which runs from late March to mid-April.)

Upstairs, in a beautiful old brick performance room, Brindley said the wait for that staircase is going to cost them $15,000, and they're trying to fill the hole with “normal, old-fashioned fundraising.”

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"Well, at least we've got a lot of our set done early," she said. "When does that ever happen?" recommended

This article has been updated since its original publication.