Third-generation owner Mark Canlis

You’d have to be living in a cave to have missed all the excitement and chatter surrounding Canlis Restaurant over the past 10 days.  The iconic Seattle restaurant is celebrating its 60th birthday by hiding replicas of its 1950 menus at various historic spots all over the city, and issuing daily clues via social media as to their location. The lucky “finder” each day earns the right to dine at Canlis at 1950’s menu prices, a bargain indeed.  To get more inside scoop on Seattle’s hottest topic, I spoke by phone with co-owner Mark Canlis – as he was sitting on a park bench waiting for clue-seekers to find Wednesday’s hidden menu at the Ballard Locks! 

What was your inspiration for the menu contest? 

MC: Since we were celebrating a big birthday – our 60th – we wanted to play a big game.  As brothers, we (Mark, Brian and Matt) always played lots of games growing up, and it’s just the way we were raised.  We even play laser tag as a staff when the restaurant is closed! So we wanted to throw a big birthday party for the whole town and started thinking about what would be a fun game to play. 

So how did you decide to use Social Media (Twitter and Facebook) as a key component for the game? 

MC: Over the past few years, we’ve been a little slow to get involved in social media – and honestly, we didn’t see a ton of uses for it in the restaurant industry. But as we thought more about the kind of game we wanted – something significant and substantial and fun – we realized that social media was a great way to include the new generation of young diners.  We have 2 kinds of diners – those that have been coming here forever and can afford it, and those who maybe can’t afford it right now, and it might be their first visit to our restaurant.  We call them “attachers”, the second and third generation of diners who are really into the food scene.  And they are active in social media, and this is their language. 

How do you feel about some who have said this is the best restaurant use of Twitter “ever”? 

MC: It feels really good.  When you pour your heart and soul into something, it feels great to be praised for your efforts.  We really wanted to do something the whole city could get into – because who wants to throw a party and have no one show up?! But we feel like there’s such great history in Seattle, such wealth and depth to the city and the land, that we wanted to do something that everyone would want to participate in. 

Well I think you’ve accomplished that!  Are you surprised at the success and wide reach it’s had so far? 

MC: We had no idea, and we certainly didn’t anticipate the flurry of attention it’s gotten!  We thought we’d do this mellow little promotion, and walk around the city haphazardly hiding some clues – who knew people would be writing and talking about it all over the country!? Some might say it was risky to run a contest for the whole city, but it’s been a lot of fun and it’s great for Seattle. And that was our goal.   

Brian and Mark Canlis dare you to find today’s clue! Photo: Seattle Tourism Ad

Speaking of goals, how will you measure the success of the promotion at the end of the two-month contest? 

MC: Well, certainly we would love more guests to come dine with us, but truthfully, we just wanted to serve the city in a really fun way.  We wanted to help promote camaraderie and pride and patriotism in the area, and have people pay attention to the story of our city and its rich history.  Canlis has played a small and humble role in defining the city over the last 60 years, and we want others to help keep the legacy going. 

Some players on Twitter and Facebook have mentioned “staking out” you and Brian, so they can follow you around and get a jump on the daily clues.  Does that worry you – or scare you?! 

MC: Not at all!  We were both in the military, in special ops, so we aren’t concerned about them at all.  We have ways around that…also, we are altering the time we release clues each day, partly for that reason. 

I know you also use a PR firm (Richmond PR) and I’m curious what role they play in helping with this promotion

MC: Brian and I generated the contest idea itself, just sitting around and talking about what we could do. And we have no problem coming up with ideas for the clues – we have a list of about 100 different places all over the city we might use and only 50 days to use them!  What we do is test the ideas with our staff and decide which will work the best.  We use Richmond to help us manage the process; with such an amazing number of media people contacting us, they’ve been great to help manage those requests.  We also do a quarterly newsletter and lots of restaurants have publicists handle that duty, but Brian and I are totally involved in the work.  I write most of the content and Brian does the design and photos, and we think that’s important. 

Follow the treasure hunt daily (except Sunday) through Dec. 11 – clues on the Canlis Facebook page and Twitter feed 

In case you are wondering, here are “Seattle Landmarks” that have had a hidden clue so far: 

  • Fremont Troll
  • Seattle Public Library (downtown)
  • Gasworks Park
  • Blue Moon Tavern
  • Ballard Locks
  • Space Needle
  • Starbucks (Capital Hill)
  • Burgermaster (near Microsoft)
  • Ballard Locks