OK, so I just got off the phone with Steve Kline, and as promised in my last post, I’ve found out more about Saturday’s unexpected closure of Typhoon. “We’ve never closed anything before,” says Kline, who made the decision to shutter his Seattle restaurant Thursday after a downturn in business turned into next-to-no-business in the weeks before tax day (a notoriously bad time for the restaurant industry even in a thriving economy). “It was a devastating thing for us to do.” It wasn’t, however, a surprise.
“We’d met with our landlords [Harbor Properties] at the end of March. Harbor’s been working with us, trying to help us survive, and we said we were committed to making it work, but the last two weeks were just devastating as people got ready to file taxes. That was the punctuation of two years of challenges we could not overcome.”
In addition to the obvious economic slide, those challenges, says Kline, included massive construction projects like the new Four Seasons, directly above the restaurant, bringing with it constant noise, parking woes and the closure and relocation of a stairway that led from First Avenue to Western — effectively “cutting off contact from downtown” for a time.
“When that was almost done, our own building was remodeled, and that project was more challenging than the landlord and we expected,” Kline says. Worse, “Washington Mutual was a good source of business for us until the economy tanked, and then all we were doing was hosting lay-off parties.”
When Typhoon took over the original Wild Ginger space in 2000, he says, there weren’t as many great restaurants downtown or on the Eastside as there are today. “I think the growth of the area probably worked against us.” But the single biggest recent factor that brought down his Seattle restaurant, Kline says, was the holiday snowfall that brought the city to a standstill for two weeks in December. “We could never get any traction after that,” he says.
Kline and his wife and business partner, Bo, own and operate Portland-based Typhoon Restaurant Group, with upscale Typhoon Thai restaurants in Redmond, four in the Portland area and another in Bend, Oregon. Additionally, they operate Bo Restobar (two small-plates-style Asian-fusion restaurants in Portland and Bend); two Bo Asian Bistros on Redmond’s Microsoft campus; and their latest venture “Typhoon Streets of Asia” — set to make its debut Monday at Microsoft’s new West Campus Commons.
Kline says natural attrition has kept his Seattle staff “lean” in recent months, and while they’ve been able to employ a few staffers elsewhere, approximately 10 Seattle-based employees lost their jobs last week. Though he and his wife have closed their sole Seattle restaurant, he says they remain committed to doing business in the area, noting, “We hope we’ll be back in downtown Seattle once the economy turns.”