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Three downtown Renton restaurants close
Two neatly typed messages taped to the door miles apart tell almost the same bittersweet story.
“I have a wonderful set of close friends and I am thankful for those who supported me with my dream,” writes Joe Kennedy who lives in the Cascade area of Renton.
His dream? A destination restaurant where you can get a meal, some delicious cheesecake and a drink. Last month, his Cafe Lure/Calico Cheesecake/Tapestry Saloon closed, leaving three empty business fronts on downtown’s South Third Street.
Kennedy is bankrupt and for the first time in many years, the chef is looking for work. He opened Calico Cheesecake on Houser Way in 2005 but jumped at the chance to operate his own restaurant when the new space became available.
Kennedy’s is one of three restaurants in downtown Renton that have closed in recent weeks, leaving a hole in downtown’s nightlife. The owners of two of the buildings – both experienced restaurateurs – are moving quickly to find new tenants and seem hopeful they will succeed.
Downtown needs an anchor to draw shoppers and residents and an upscale restaurant is a good place to start, says one of those owners.
Mary Clymer, owner of happy delusions just across South Third Street, was saddened to see Kennedy’s business close.
It’s like a loss in the family of business owners downtown, she said.
And, from a business standpoint, “the last thing we need to see downtown is more empty stores,” said Clymer.
Across town on Southwest Seventh Street is a darkened Billy McHale’s. Joseph Dalton drove up the other day, his car packed with everything he owns. He was looking for work. He cooked for cowboys in New Mexico.
“You want a good home meal? That was good home cooking,” Dalton said of Billy McHale’s.
He found the front door locked and a letter from owners Bill Crooks and John Dunn on the window.
“Many of you have become not just customers but friends and family,” they write. “We are truly sorry that it has come to this. We are closing our doors with heavy hearts.”
And, yet a third downtown restaurant has closed, Fin n Bone, not far from Cafe Lure, on Wells Avenue. Fin n Bone was arguably one of the most elegant restaurants in downtown Renton, with its lush interiors and curved bar.
The building itself is owned by Ron McGowan, who for years ran the successful McGowan’s Restaurant and Lounge in the building McGowan of Lakeridge still owns.
McGowan is hopeful he’ll find another restaurant that will fit the elegant interior. It’s his letter that’s on the door of Fin n Bone, extolling the virtues inside and where to call if interested. In 2006 the interior underwent a $250,000 upgrade and remodel.
McGowan has already spoken with several experienced restaurant owners and is finding “a lot of interest” but no one yet willing to step up.
But the possibilities fit in with that elegant interior. Think Daniel’s Broiler and Chandler’s Crabhouse in Seattle.
McGowan didn’t want to speak for Fin n Bone owners, Jerry and Yelina Jackson, who couldn’t be reached for comment. But the recession has hurt all restaurants, McGowan said.
“I do know the economy was a big factor in driving the final nail in the coffin,” he said.
Looking more broadly at downtown Renton, McGowan said there is nothing downtown to “drive the core. There is no catalyst.” Downtown Renton is “sitting there kind of in limbo” between Southcenter and The Landing, he said.
He thinks an upscale restaurant could become that catalyst, a destination that would bring people downtown to not just eat but to shop and even live.
Don Schumsky of Renton has probably done as much as any restaurant owner in shaping how and where people dine in Renton. He was known for his Schumsky’s restaurants, until he retired. He owned the first restaurant in the Renton Village Shopping Center.
Now, like McGowan, he’s trying to find a new restaurant for the space where Kennedy did business for about a year. Before that, Schumsky’s tenant was the troubled Stiffy’s, a soul-food restaurant.
A stuffed animal still presides over the restaurants’ kitchen. On a table in the bar, a pile of quarters, cards and chips sit, alone, the players long gone.
Schumsky hopes to sell the fully equipped restaurant. He calls the building itself “the rock of Gibraltar” because it’s solidly built. He also owns the space next door which housed a dance studio until it recently moved.
Schumsky also still owns the building on Airport Way that housed one of his own restaurants until it closed, Touchdowns Sports Bar and Grill.
He sees a lot of “action” in downtown Renton, he said. “There’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t be successful.”
For Kennedy, the downfall was not bringing in the revenue he needed – about $60,000 a month – to pay the bills. He made enough to turn on the lights, pay wages and buy food and beverages, he said, but there was not enough left over to pay off his loans and taxes.
He had a strong customer base, he said, but the three doors leading to each of his trio of eating spots confused some customers, he said.
What hurts is that he finally had his restaurant.
“It was a great thing I had down here,” he said. “I miss it dearly.”