Food & Drink

How Restaurants, Wine Tasting Rooms Opened Amid Covid

These entrepreneurs didn’t let the pandemic ruin their dreams. Here’s how they did it.

By Nat Rubio-Licht April 5, 2021

SPARKMAN-2-DAN-MANNING

This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Seattle magazine.

Opening a restaurant or bar during a normal time is never an easy task. And this is obviously far from a normal time.

At the end of 2020, more than 110,000 restaurants across the country have closed permanently or long-term as a result of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Despite the restrictions created by Washington state’s most recent lockdown, numerous food and beverage entrepreneurs have persevered and managed to open in the most trying of times, adapting to a wide range of new protocols while adhering to social guidelines. Here’s a look at three that opened during the pandemic.

All pivoted to either takeout or limited hours as in-person dining was suspended and, more recently, restricted.

For long-time Seattle chef Kristi Brown, opening her “Seattle soul food” restaurant Communion Restaurant & Bar in the Capitol Hill neighborhood was the end of a four-year journey after months of delays caused by the pandemic. She had originally planned to open in June 2020.

A nonprofit dedicated to affordable housing — Community Roots Housing — worked closely with her to open the space.

“When you walk in our door, one of our things is ‘I am home,’” Brown says. “And the point of ‘I am home’ is to make sure that Black folks feel welcome, thereby allowing everyone else to feel welcome as well.”

Though opening Cornelly was a shorter journey for Brett Phillips and Sam Carroll, the pandemic still created challenges. They started the process of opening their casual Italian restaurant at the beginning of the pandemic, but were delayed because the buildout of the space took longer than expected.

However, Carroll and Phillips managed to open their pizza and pasta joint in Capitol Hill at the end of October. They’re laying the groundwork for in-person dining, but launched as a takeout-only restaurant because of lockdown restrictions.

“The neighborhood we moved into was very enthusiastically sort of cheering us on as we were building the space out,” says Carroll, who previously worked with Phillips at downtown Seattle’s Purple Café and Wine Bar and at Old Stove Brewery in Pike Place Market. “Since we’ve opened, folks have been awesome. We’ve seen lots of repeat customers already.”

Opening a tasting room during the pandemic has not, surprisingly, proven difficult and challenging, says Kelly Sparkman, co-owner of Woodinville’s Sparkman Cellars. Sparkman’s winery has been open since 2004, and she and her husband, Chris, took on the process of opening the tasting room two years ago in the former Redhook Brewery property in Hollywood Station. Construction started on the space just before the start of the pandemic, causing delays in opening.

The stakes were high. Sparkman Cellars recently closed its tasting room in the Hollywood Hills Tourist District and late last year shut its Woodinville Warehouse District location to focus on the new property. The 10,000-square-foot event space is among the largest in Woodinville.

Feedback from the Sparkman Cellars Wine Club showed the Sparkmans that their customers wanted them to move forward with opening. They researched safety protocols for weeks and were able to open for outdoor service in November. Tastings last 75 minutes and require reservations to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Sparkman does have a 5,000-square-foot outdoor patio with fire pits.

“The beauty of the wine community is, especially in Woodinville, a very supportive community,” Sparkman says. “Everyone’s trying to help each other out.”

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