I was surprised to walk by Queen Anne’s Café de Lion last week to find it shuttered, with “For Lease” signs on the windows. While I was peeking inside, a regular came by and expressed a lot of frustration—frustration that her favorite bakery was closed for good, and frustration that she hadn’t been informed.
This situation made me wonder: Shouldn’t a restaurant tell the public that it’s gone out of business?
To me, the answer is a big “Yes.” Customers are the base of the business, and deserve to be in the know. In Café de Lion’s case, I know that the owners had been dealing with some family emergencies. And I know a closure means busy times in dealing with the lease, employee benefits, asset liquidation, and other business matters. But communication about closing would help customers make unnecessary trips (often from Bellevue, or further, in this situation), and enable them to make other plans.
In today’s age of social media, it’s easy to communicate with the world. Café de Lion has over 900 followers of its Facebook page. Many of its fans turned to the page to find out the daily sweets. Why not mention the closing there? Wording of such an announcement may be difficult, especially for people who aren’t native English speakers, but anything is better than nothing, and the owners were managing the page just fine already. In fact, in the absence of an announcement, at least two people posted comments about the café’s closure on that Facebook page, and someone affiliated with Café de Lion found time to surprisingly scrub the comments.
Also, how about a sign placed prominently on a window? Such a sign could mention the closing; even better, it could thank people for their previous loyalty and support.
Instead of communication, Café de Lion closed with the sound of silence. (Urbanspoon mentions the closure, but this updated only after a fellow food writer saw my tweet about it.) As far as I know, the police didn’t have to help clear the customers from the place, but the lack of an announcement continues to leave former customers frustrated. Such frustration interferes with the natural grieving process, the ability to move on, and the desire to wish the owners success with whatever’s next for them. (I’m told that owners are moving back to Japan might pursue a similar business there.)
As a fan of Café de Lion, and someone who turned others into satisfied regulars, I have happy memories of their well-executed, hard-to-find sweets like Mont Blanc. Fortunately, fans of Japanese-style sweets can find similar sweets at Hiroki in Tangletown, Fumie’s Gold in Bellevue, and Setsuko Pastry via online ordering. For Queen Anne residents who want a local place for unique sweets, the new Cederberg Tea House is just two short blocks away from Café de Lion’s closed space, and sells a variety of South African treats.
And now, time taken to “grieve” a bit, I wish the owners future success.