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April 21, 2011 at 10:13 AM

5 Corner Market down — and out — after 4 months in Ballard

“Closed?!” wrote Eater Kate Leroux — shocked to find 5 Corner Market & Kitchen in Ballard, successor to Lombardi’s, shuttered last week. “Do you have any info on what happened?” It didn’t take long for jaws to drop when that news got around: What had sounded like a promising restaurant had packed it in only four months after its December debut.

The original Lombardi’s Italian restaurant (now with locations in Everett and Issaquah) lived here for 23 years. The short-lived 5 Corner Market opened in December and closed last week.

This week, 5 Corner owner Steve Hayter, quoted in a press release, said in that brief missive “the concept received an enthusiastic reception in Ballard, but there ultimately wasn’t enough patronage to sustain the business. I wish the next tenant the best of luck,” he said, noting, “I would like to thank those who supported us along the way.” There will be no further comment at this time, added his publicist. Nor later, as I found after attempting to speak directly to him. So, why the fast farewell, and what’s next for this prime corner spot?

“We’ve gotten a lot of email and calls from guests of our Ballard restaurant asking if we were going to come back,” said Diane Symms, founder of Lombardi’s, who has ceded the management to her daughter Kerri Lonergan after closing her flagship in October. Their answer? “No, we’re not coming back to Ballard,” said Symms. The 125-seat restaurant and bar is currently listed for sale.

Diane Symms. On the move, not looking back. [Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert/2004]

This is a particularly quick-flip for Ballard, which has seen many successful openings in the past year from industry longtimers — among them Ethan Stowell’s Staple & Fancy, Renee Erickson’s Walrus and the Carpenter and Maria Hines’ Golden Beetle.

Hayter’s professional biography cites 40 years in the hospitality business, encompassing lengthy management stints and concept and development work at Restaurants Unlimited, much of that during RUI’s heyday as a local restaurant group with a growing national presence. He was later recruited by the Minneapolis-based Leeann Chin, Inc., running food operations for 28 units. For the better part of the past decade, Hayter worked for Seattle’s Best Coffee as a corporate manager and food and beverage developer, before buying and re-envisioning Lombardi’s as a Ballard gastropub.

“It’s very sad,” said opening chef Sam Crannell, who developed 5 Corner’s menu and was “let go” February 28, along with his executive sous-chef, he said. “I felt it coming,” said Crannell. “They didn’t have the tools necessary to really be able to make it through a slower time. I didn’t want to leave, but they couldn’t pay my salary. They were trying to stay afloat.”

The closure, he posits, was likely the result of a combination of factors. “You had economics. You had opening at the wrong time” (the notoriously slow months between January and April) and opening with “aggressive hours” (including lunch and late-night offerings). In addition, he said, “The space itself needed some help. There was so much of the old Lombardi’s left, it didn’t feel like a full transformation.”

What’s more, “some said my food was too out-there. Some loved it. That’s what I’ve found throughout my career: either you love my food, or you hate it.” Adding to 5 Corner’s troubles, said Crannell, after he and his sous-chef were dismissed, “much of the cook-staff left that same day.”

Crannell is looking for a job while contemplating opening a restaurant of his own. He and a partner have a completed business plan and concept, he said, and they’ve got their eye on Pioneer Square.

Chef Sam Crannell: keeping his eyes open for a place of his own. [courtesy ESTEPWORKS photography]

And of course, if that doesn’t work out, there’s a certain high-profile corner in Ballard presently for lease. “We’ve owned this building for 26 years,” said Lowen Clausen, managing partner at CKM Associates and Hayter’s landlord. “It’s a wonderful corner, and a very important building. We have a lot of history and recognize this as an important space, not only for us, but for the area.”

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