BIZNOTE: After 35 years, Chelan Café is dropping dinner

A big change at the Chelan Café: Tomorrow is the last time dinner will be served. Monday, for the first time in 35 years, the restaurant at 3527 Chelan SW will close at mid-afternoon. The café contacted WSB to ask us to share the news. Here’s the text of their letter announcing the change:


Dear Chelan Café Family,

We have made the decision to reduce our restaurant hours and will no longer serve dinner as of January 31.

Having served dinner for the past 35 years, this is not a decision we made lightly. Unfortunately, the cost of running a restaurant in the city of Seattle has increased dramatically in recent years. Reducing our hours will better allow us to manage this lost revenue without resorting to raising our prices or other methods that will put the burden on our valued customers.

While we will miss serving our dinner customers greatly, we are excited to start this new chapter at the Chelan Café. We ask for your understanding and continued patronage during this transitional period and beyond. We intend to do what we do best, breakfast and lunch, amd DO it even better. We’ve been serving West Seattle and the greater Puget Sound area for 82 years and look forward to the next 82!

Thank you,
Mary Manning-Smith

The café has been in Manning-Smith’s family for more than half that time, since her dad bought it in the ’70s.

46 Replies to "BIZNOTE: After 35 years, Chelan Café is dropping dinner"

  • Mike January 30, 2020 (8:23 pm)

    I understand, but dang it!  

  • B January 30, 2020 (8:41 pm)

    We understand their predicament and should applaud them for going out of their way to try and make this work, instead of choosing a more grave decision….one we’ve all noticed in our city as of late…..kudos!

  • Alki resident January 30, 2020 (8:43 pm)

    This’ll be really unfortunate for the ones who really rely on a daily meal especially our retired folks around here. Seattle sucks. 

    • HappyOnAlki January 30, 2020 (10:19 pm)

      If folks are retired, they can go for late lunch (until 3!) instead of dinner.

      • chelancafe January 31, 2020 (2:24 pm)

        That’s what we’re hoping as well!  We’ll be keeping some of our popular dinner items on our new lunch menu as well.  You can check our facebook page for all those updates

    • ChelanFan January 31, 2020 (7:30 pm)

      It would be more unfortunate if they went out of business altogether!  We went to dinner there several times a year and were often the only patrons.  I’m so glad they are looking at finding a way to stay open –  we’d really miss Chelan if they were completely closed!

  • Ebber January 30, 2020 (9:18 pm)

    Wonder if there will be any evening food available in the adjacent Ebb Tide lounge?

  • BusMan January 30, 2020 (9:32 pm)

    Sounds to me like they found that what they offered for dinner wasn’t competitive with what people could get elsewhere, and decided to blame it on the supposed high cost of doing business in Seattle.  As someone said, they do most of their business at breakfast and lunch: I’d rather see them just own
    their decisions rather than passing the buck to “Seattle” and making people think there is something wrong with the city. It’s just a change to their business model in line with a constantly changing world, nothing more and nothing less.

    • HappyOnAlki January 30, 2020 (10:32 pm)

      Um . . . they’re the ones who said they do most of their business at breakfast and lunch. If you’re going to be snarky, at least get your story straight.

    • JD January 30, 2020 (10:50 pm)

      You kind of sound like you have no idea what you’re talking about … I’ve traveled the world over and this city is majorly expensive, with a lot of people who don’t want to fork out money for extra entertainment. AKA people extremely fiscally conservative. Maybe you’re not from here, but yeah, passing the baton off to Seattle because the city sucks now is a point that holds a lot of validity and weight.

      • heartless January 31, 2020 (7:22 pm)

        JD, others:  I might be mistaken, but doesn’t Seattle rank near the top in restaurants per capita?  I’m not sure how facts like this mesh with the view that Seattle is a bad city for restaurants, or the view that people in Seattle don’t want to spend money on dining out…  I mean, I guess both could be true and it’s only really dumb people that keep opening restaurants, but that doesn’t really make sense either, eh?

    • Its a bridge not a freeway January 30, 2020 (10:55 pm)

      They made it 35 years because they have been able to adapt to the ever changing business climate. Educate yourself on the rarity of a restaurant surviving for so many years. You have to constantly rewrite your business plan to stay alive. However, you must have had your head in the sand the last five years to not realize how far the goal posts have been moved by our city council. We can have our ideals to strive towards to with better pay, shorter work weeks, scheduling, etc. But to ignore the lightning speed these effects are having on businesses to succeed is negligent at best. We are changing our business plans. Better pay for the staff we can afford, less hours, less support staff, fewer salaried managers, raising prices, automatic gratuity, self check out,  and counter service. Those jobs are not coming back. If the council had any backbone, they would simply put a tax to dine out and pay for these things and own it. Instead they pass the laws and tell the business to figure out how to make it profitable. Hence the crazy landscape of autograts, service charges, and whatever comes next. Thank you Chelan for being a hub of the community for so long and finding a way to keep the doors open. I hope to see an announcement in the future where hours can expand and jobs can be gained.

    • Pelicans January 31, 2020 (2:01 am)

      BusMan,Perhaps you could enlighten us all on your inside info regarding this business’s financial situation.Do you work at Chelan? Are you a business partner? Creditor? Or perhaps you are a, heaven forbid, employee/minion of Seattle city government. Tax department, perhaps?Do tell.

      • CandrewB January 31, 2020 (5:33 am)

        My guess would be KC Metro

    • Kram January 31, 2020 (7:39 am)

      With that logic; no restaurant is affected by Seattle’s decision making. You are getting so much negative feedback to your comment because you are commenting on an industry you know nothing about.

  • MJ January 30, 2020 (10:35 pm)

    BusMan the City regulations have significantly increased costs to staff a restaurant.  And having dated a lady years ago who ran a restaurant/cafe it is not easy, slim margins and 24 7 work for owners.

  • Fred January 30, 2020 (10:42 pm)

    So sad… we love the live music on Monday night!

  • John Smith January 30, 2020 (11:00 pm)

    Huckleberry Square on Ambaum in Burien still serves dinner, and it has a similar long-time presence.

    • alki_2008 February 3, 2020 (7:05 pm)

      I wonder if being in Burien, not beholden to Seattle City Council decisions, has helped them endure.

      • heartless February 3, 2020 (7:47 pm)

        Seattle has a lot more restaurants per square mile, a lot more restaurants per capita, and a lot more restaurants period than Burien, so… I doubt it?  

  • Pentti January 31, 2020 (3:35 am)

    Didn’t there use to be a dive bar in that location back in the 70’s?

    • RayWest February 1, 2020 (3:35 pm)

      Pentti – I believe you’re thinking of the “Blew Eagle” a tavern that was near the Chelan.

  • Run_dmc January 31, 2020 (6:50 am)

    Um – John, I think you are proving the point of both Chelan Cafe and most of the commenters here.  Huckleberry is in the city of Burien.  They don’t have to deal with Seattle city council passed policies.

    • Rick January 31, 2020 (8:22 am)

      I think Hucleberry used to be Whizburger at one time.

  • ACG January 31, 2020 (7:02 am)

    We always go for breakfast an the weekends. Our favorite breakfast spot in WS. I’ve never been there for dinner. But, if these changes make it so that they can still stay open and be successful, I think that it’s great. We will continue to support them!

  • John Bennett January 31, 2020 (9:02 am)

    I can relate to this. I opened Luna Park Cafe almost 31 years ago. It is harder and harder to turn a profit with a small restaurant. This years road construction on Avalon almost did us in ( think Shack Coffee ). I have had to write a check monthly to keep the doors open. if it wasn’t for our dedicated customers finding creative parking during construction ,we would have had to close. The Chelan Cafe is a West Seattle icon and an inspiration for me to open Luna so many years ago. I look forward to a good summer this year to hopefully get us back on track and profitable. With our amazing staff and great food I see us lasting 85 years and more! Maybe we will start a Chelan dinner special! In the mean time…. support the Chelan for breakfast and lunch, or a cocktail in the bar. I’ll be there to see Gail and have a BBIT. Thanks Mary.John Bennett luna Park Cafe

    • vincent January 31, 2020 (11:21 am)

      Both restaurants serve sysco food-service delivery food. Its not bad per say, but its very basic, and doesn’t bring much to the offering beyond bare basics, location and being open.They kill at breakfast because breakfast is a basic “bacon and eggs” meal, but lunch and dinner there are dozens of *same priced* options around West Seattle to choose from.They are doing good at the corner of the market they are targeting, but they don’t appear to be looking to grow beyond their niche or older/nostalgic target market. If there were more early breakfast options in the neighborhood they would pull traffic from them very fast. Even a chain like original pancake house opening in a new development would smash them hard.

      • Infantry72 January 31, 2020 (11:59 am)

        Vincent, cool story bro.

    • Ice February 3, 2020 (10:32 am)

      I like the food at your restaurant and I am sure the construction was a huge financial burden for you. Let’s be totally real here though, your location sucks. It’s a problem when your location forces you to rely on a government subsidy (FREE PUBLIC PARKING) to survive.

  • Mercedes January 31, 2020 (9:48 am)

    My favorite West Seattle cafe. I’m really going to miss the Monday night music.

  • Marge E. January 31, 2020 (12:00 pm)

    In the past year we have dined at the Chelan many times with friends at dinner time. There was never any customers besides us.  The menu was very old fashioned.

  • Alex S. January 31, 2020 (12:06 pm)

    Pay more taxes, follow more regulations, and get less & worse services: this is the City of Seattle Way.   Punish and blame people who create jobs, and reward the lazy & high ones who have created a subculture of avoiding work: this is the City of Seattle Way.  Ideology, bureaucracy & clueless do-gooderism are leading us down the path of insanity. 

    • Jon Wright January 31, 2020 (5:06 pm)

      Turn any event into grist for an anti-government screed (without bothering to get any facts or know what one is talking about): this is what much of our political discourse has devolved into.

    • heartless January 31, 2020 (7:23 pm)

      Alex, like I mentioned elsewhere, the restaurant scene in Seattle is absolutely thriving.  But you go ahead and rant.

    • Jort January 31, 2020 (7:42 pm)

      Yes, Seattle truly is one of America’s all-time greatest failures of a city. Because of the liberals and their liberalness, nobody wants to move here, housing prices are plummeting, none of the world’s most valuable companies are headquartered here … oh …. wait…. …… oh …. hmmm ………………. Um, in summary …. LIBERALS!!!! 

  • Marge E. January 31, 2020 (12:53 pm)

    when was the last time you ate dinner there?   they had no customers.

  • Time to listen January 31, 2020 (1:40 pm)

    Maybe this story could be a wake up call for “Lisa” and her “progressive council” to have a group meal at the Chelan, and sit and listen to why a decades-strong business can’t afford to stay open for dinner. I appreciate the owner of Luna Park chiming in here as well. Best of luck to the Chelan and their new hours. 

    • KBear January 31, 2020 (2:32 pm)

      Again, there are many, many restaurants in Seattle that are open for dinner. This is not the city government’s fault.

    • Jort January 31, 2020 (7:43 pm)

      The wake up call that Lisa and the “progressive council” got is that she and they got overwhelmingly reelected by landslide margins. So, I don’t think she needs to wake up any time soon. But thanks for your concern.

  • Elle Nell January 31, 2020 (6:06 pm)

    First off, LOvE the Chelan and support their decision. They clearly know how to run a restaurant since it been around longer than most of these commenters have been alive!! And I must say, this has been the best thread on the blog, IMO, in a very long time… made my heart happy. Love my fellow WESt Seattlites … holdin it down🥰

  • Get a grip people January 31, 2020 (8:21 pm)

    First of all Chelan Cafe is a West Seattle institution. Critical to the longshoremen AND folks who want a great breakfast 7 days a week. All you folks commenting that SEATTLE is not to blame for the prohibitive cost of doing business…go ahead and run for city council. You obviously have your head in the sand. Must be nice to live your life with your 2.5 kids, nanny, housekeeper and $150k salary. As for the rest of us sorry working class people who work thankless jobs, without benefits  to cater to your sorry a– …well you can guess what I think you deserve. 

    • heartless January 31, 2020 (9:10 pm)

      Maybe they all want a great breakfast 7 days a week, but apparently they never showed up for dinners there.

      And I know I shouldn’t, but I just gotta ask–if people think Seattle isn’t to blame, then why on earth would they run for city council?  I mean, by your logic they think the current council is doing just fine…?

    • Get a grip people January 31, 2020 (10:11 pm)

      You missed the point. If you think Seattle ISN’T to blame…then run for city council…as obviously you agree with the policies that they support which make it nearly impossible to operate a restaurant business within the city limits. DUH.

    • KM January 31, 2020 (10:55 pm)

      Time to meditate on that user name.

  • J.J. January 31, 2020 (8:37 pm)

    We love the chelan, sucks there’s no more dinner but we will never stop giving them our buisness

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