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Brian Miller
Real Estate Editor

August 6, 2020

On the Block: Hard times at the Shanty

Opening a new restaurant this year, as was the plan at 350 Elliott Ave. W., after four years of delay, would've been a challenge for any small business owner during ordinary times. But these are pandemic times. And now, after a June fire destroyed the already squatter- and contractor-damaged former Shanty Cafe in Lower Queen Anne, relaunching as El Charro at the Shanty seems ever more unlikely.

The 1,788-square-foot triangle has been on the market for about nine months — listed, unpriced, by Nick Ramirez of Kidder Mathews. The prospective seller is the Madriz family, which operates El Charro in Livermore, California, in the southeast Bay Area not far from San Jose. An El Charro-related LLC paid $700,000 for the triangle in early 2016 — when the longtime prior Shanty owners/operators also said it would close. It hasn't reopened since.

The restaurant claimed a 102-year history that year. The shingled 1,102-square-foot building was supposedly constructed in 1926, per county records. But public records from those tide flat days — when the railroad ran along a trestle off the shore where Elliott is now — are notoriously fickle.

Photo and rendering by Strouse Davis Architecture [enlarge]
The Shanty before it closed in 2016 (above), and the unrealized plan for El Charro at the Shanty. The vacant property is now for sale.

Strouse Davis Architecture, which designed a handsome renovation plan for the old building, says it opened as a restaurant in 1914. Before that, it was a pay station for nearby dock workers. The architect writes on its website, “When we first got involved with the project, the building itself was on life-support. There was a large hole in the roof, most of the interior walls had been removed, and much of the structure left unsupported — an unfortunate result of a previous contractor.”

Oh, that. Jose Madriz had family up here, so he decided to add a second location in Seattle. He hired Interstate Industries of Renton to renovate the old building. But, Madriz told The Queen Anne News last fall, the contractor took about $274,000 for partially performed work, then left the project and failed to renew its contractor's license. (That was before a construction permit was issued last fall.)

The state Department of Labor & Industries also cited the contractor last year for infractions including work at the Shanty. The L&I website lists numerous complaints against the contractor, along with unpaid tax debts to the agency, construction infractions in Renton and “strikes” for failing to comply with L&I laws. The now dissolved contracting entities couldn't be reached for comment.

Madriz started a GoFundMe effort last year, about the same time the property was listed. This week he filed for debris removal and asbestos abatement. The building burned to the ground on June 14. Seattle Fire Department's Twitter account, and KOMO News, provided dramatic photos and video at that time. It's now just a fenced-off pit.

In response to a DJC query, he called the dilemma “definitely an unfortunate situation.”

As of this writing, the GoFundMe effort has raised $1,295 toward its $550,000 goal. Madriz writes on that page, “Shockingly and sadly, we were scammed by a local contractor. He left the interior and exterior of the building completely gutted and our funds exhausted.”

To purchase the triangle, the El Charro LLC took out a $350,000 loan from Zions First National Bank, sourced through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The GoFundMe appeal continues, “Our current total debt is $950,000 and [we] do not have the ability to add additional debt, and our combined savings to fund the Shanty building have been drained.”

So the triangle will be cleared, and awaits a buyer for the bare land. It's zoned up to 55 feet, though construction that high on only 1,788 square feet seems unlikely. A new ground-up restaurant or food truck is possible, but would serve very different clientele. The old docks and stevedores are gone, and that area is empty offices now.

Madriz told the DJC that he did have insurance, and that the property is still available.

Got a tip? Contact DJC real estate editor Brian Miller at brian.miller@djc.com or call him at (206) 219-6517.

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