Dark clouds for St. Clouds

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Michael McGloin has decided to close St. Clouds, the long-running Madrona restaurant just a year after he took over from the founding partners, who retired to Utah. Much of the longtime staff left as well.

In a heartfelt email, McGloin wrote, “We have generated some new love, but food costs, labor costs and the shortage of cooks in Seattle have created challenges for being able to offer simple, consistent and exceptional food at a reasonable cost. This is what I intended to do when I took over and it now feels too elusive to continue.” So Sunday, October 28th, will be the final day.

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John Irving’s novel called “The Cider House Rules’ was set in an orphanage, St. Cloud’s, in rural Maine, with a doctor, Wilbur Larch, who was both an obstetrician and an abortionist; and an orphan, Homer Wells, who was trained as his successor.

In the movie version, Michael Caine played the doctor, Tobey Maguire the youngster, but long before the movie came out, the book was adapted for the stage and produced at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. An English teacher from the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, John Platt, ended up cooking for the Rep’s cast and crew as they work-shopped the production.

Platt was no kitchen amateur; he had trained at Coastal Kitchen and 5-Spot and had been a general manager. When “Cider House” took itself to Los Angeles and then to Broadway, Platt teamed up with a colleague, Paul “Pablo” Butler, the Spanish teacher at Charles Wright, and plunged into the restaurant business.

Both were social activists and wanted to incorporate a spirit of community in their project, which took over the Madrona space vacated by Cool Hand Luke’s at 1131 34th Ave. They decided to emulate Dr. Larch’s sense of duty and generosity, so they named the restaurant St. Clouds, and they made a commitment to monthly “homeless cooking” events. That was 17 years ago.

Into this mix a year ago came Michael McGloin, originally from Middlebury, Vermont, by training a Russian historian and international journalist (Turner Broadcasting), who first visited Seattle to cover the International Goodwill Games. He ended up working for Microsoft in program management and business development, then (like so many) he jumped off the corporate ship head first and into front-line community relations. He took over the Judkins St. Cafe in the heart of Seattle’s Central District. “Judkins is a wonderful community,” McGloin maintains, and he would have happily stayed but the landlord is redeveloping the property and has kicked out all the tenants.

Fortunately, McGloin had been working part-time with Platt to help him develop the St Clouds catering business, and then, one day, Platt announced he was leaving, giving up the restaurant, and moving to the mountains of Utah. St Clouds was suddenly for sale. “I think you should buy it,” Platt said to McGloin, so he did. He had something like four days to repaint, put down new carpet, and build a back patio before reopening in early June.

Not a lot of menu changes, but “more accessible” food from Devin Lowden (who took over from St Clouds’ longtime chef Mike King). “The original St Clouds was an orphanage,” McGloin reminds us. “Orphans don’t eat $35 steaks.” They do eat meatloaf, though, So there was a new meat loaf ($19), a delicious, dense and flavorful staple of family dinners everywhere, and all-too-rare on local restaurant menus. And until this week, monthly neighborhood cooking sessions (on Wednesdays) to prepare food for the honeless.

Along with the meatloaf, that too will be a thing of the past.