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This shutdown is awful, but Tacoma restaurants like The Swiss are regrouping

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Swiss Restaurant & Pub Tacoma

The Swiss Restaurant & Pub in downtown Tacoma knows how to throw a damn fine party.

Especially when the longtime live music destination is celebrating its anniversary with a very loud band and plenty of booze.

There was the 21st anniversary party when they co-brewed a beer with the owners of 7 Seas to celebrate their anniversary (this story from Ron Swarner is gold).

On their 25th anniversary, co-founder Bob Hill (who has since retired) invited his band to play their anniversary show. They brought down the house.

This year’s anniversary – they’re celebrating 27 years of business – will look quite a bit different due to the current statewide restrictions that shuttered restaurants except for takeout, curbside service and delivery.

There won’t be that signature long line snaking out the front door with locals eager to watch whatever live band is playing the stage, but owners Jack and Carole Ann McQuade, like a lot of restaurant owners right now, are making the best out of a truly crummy situation. They’re doing a take-out special, of course, and it involves booze. They’ll celebrate Monday (April 27), which is the day they’re commemorating the opening of The Swiss in 1993.

Carole Ann described a growler special of Alaskan Amber – when The Swiss opened, they were the brewery’s largest customer in Washington because they sold so much of that beer – and a special sandwich offering at a $27 pricetag to celebrate their 27th anniversary.

HOW THE SWISS TAVERN IS HANDLING THIS CRISIS

There have been busy days with their current take-out menu they’re offering, but a week ago, they only had one customer the whole day. “We’re just trying to get by,” explained Jack McQuade, who co-founded The Swiss in April 1993 with Bob Hill, who has since retired, and Gayl Bertagni, the restaurant’s co-founder and chef who died in a tragic accident in 2009.

The pub has embraced social media and uses its website better than most to market itself, but lately, they’ve been returning to their early marketing methods in this current crisis.

“We’ve gone old school. We’re literally contacting people and sending texts,” said Jack, with Carole Ann chiming in that they’re just doing everything they can do to get the word out that they’re doing takeout.
“What we are finding is that basically every single person who calls or shows up says, ‘We’re so happy you’re here. We’re so sorry you’re having to go through this,” said Jack.

He added, “They want to see us succeed. It’s nice to have that. People who are coming in, they’re so positive and happy. But we need a lot more of them to keep coming.”

They’ve redesigned their menu and business plan on the fly. That reorg includes coming up with clever to-go cocktail kits, such as the Vodclaw Kit with a choice of 360 flavored vodka, 4 cans of hard seltzer and fresh limes for only $25 (sign me up).

In true Swiss fashion, the restaurant also is focused on helping others through this. They’re working with local groups to offer meals for essential frontline employees. Locals can pay $25 to the Swiss online and three meals will be donated to essential workers.

(Crisp Greens and Da Tiki Hut in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood, several Happy Teriyaki locations and TheKoi in downtown Tacoma, Al Lago in Lake Tapps, and Muscle Maker Grill in Puyallup have also done similar feeds for first responders and others).

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT AT THE SWISS?

Like so many of their fellow restaurant owners, they’re wondering what the new landscape will look like for the short-and-long term. They’re going to fight to keep their business going, but that might look different than life before.

It’s not like they haven’t faced challenges before.

McQuade, Hill and Bertagni were young, poor and serious downtown Tacoma trailblazers in 1993 when they opened The Swiss in a neighborhood that was a mess. There were more shady dealings than honest businesses operating in that particular stretch of downtown 27 years ago.

“It was a pretty rough neighborhood, recalled Jack. “By 1995, the area started getting cleaned up. And a lot happened. The History Museum was built and the University of Washington started working on their buildings.” Today, The Swiss operates in a neighborhood known for plentiful dining and entertainment options.

“Like everybody else, we’re changing how we’re doing things and maybe we have smaller shows or dinner shows after we reopen,” said Carole Ann.

“I can see where people are coming for dinner and maybe we’re going back to this historical stuff, the way things used to be. I think we still have the opportunity to bring people in, just probably not the numbers we’re used to in the short term. It will eventually get there. I think we can be creative and get that entartiment back up and running again. That’s what people love about us, the music.”

THE SWISS RESTAURANT & PUB

Where: 1904 South Jefferson
Temporary hours during Covid-19 restrictions: 12-6 Monday-Friday
Website: https://theswisspub.com
Offering: Takeout food, growlers and cocktail kits
Order by phone: 253-572-2821
Order by website: https://theswisspub.com/shop
Donate meals to essential workers: https://theswisspub.com/product/donate-a-meal-to-essential-frontline-workers

Little Radio exterior
Little Radio will open in downtown Tacoma where Tacoma Cabana previously operated at 728 Pacific Avenue. Photo courtesy of Little Radio.

LITTLE RADIO COMING TO DOWNTOWN TACOMA

Did you see my story on Monday about Little Radio coming to the other end of downtown Tacoma? The project is going to look different than the owners originally intended, but they’re pledging to open their doors when this whole mess is over. Did I mention the project comes from the owners of Tacoma’s Wingman Brewers?

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