Mar 12, 2021
Meet Two Doors Down, GSBA Member and Ready for Business grant recipient
Two Doors Down is a family-friendly beer and burger bar with two locations. One with five years under its belt and the other scheduled to open in Pioneer Square on April 1, 2020, just a few weeks after the onset of the pandemic. We asked Ready for Business grant recipient Erin Nestor, co-owner of Two Doors Down and The BottleNeck Lounge, some questions about her history as a small business owner, her motivation this past year, and that intriguing Dolly Parton question.
GSBA: What year did you open Two Doors Down? And what’s the origin of the name?
Erin: We opened in August of 2015 and were truly at a loss for the name. A good friend suggested Two Doors Down because the space itself is located just two doors down from The BottleNeck Lounge. However, the name also references the Dolly Parton song by the same title, wherein folks are “laughing and drinking and have a party just two doors down.” At the same time, poor Dolly is at home shedding “useless tears” of loneliness. We took things one step further and named our holding company Useless Tears LLC because any restaurant owner knows that tears have no place in this industry.
GSBA: Why burgers?
Erin: The immediate neighborhood lacked a casual restaurant, and burgers seemed a perfect choice – the price point is affordable, and burgers can be easily adapted to the customer’s taste. We intentionally focus on both the vegetarian and gluten-free audiences – most don’t realize that our deep fryers are dedicated gluten-free – and we promote plant-based alternatives alongside our hormone antibiotic-free beef products. From day one, the neighborhood let it be known that they are here for the burgers, though everyone does seem to appreciate our curated tap selection.
GSBA: This is not your first (or your second) business. Have you always wanted to be a business owner?
Erin: I worked in advertising and non-profit arts administration until I was forty. Although I always touted my desire to own a bar (usually while sitting at one), it was truly nothing more than fantasy. But then I found myself out of a job and couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the nine-to-five routine, so with the strong support of my wife, I took the plunge into the hospitality industry. Fourteen years and four establishments later, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except for perhaps this past year – this past year has been tough.
GSBA: You opened a second location during the pandemic. Many would call this a brave and bold move. Did you consider not moving forward, or was that not an option?
Erin: Oh, it wasn’t bold – I just ran out of road. We purchased an existing business in mid-January of 2020, sank thousands of dollars into the renovation, and were on schedule to open April 1, but the pandemic hit, and all hell broke loose. Opening budgets always have wiggle room for setbacks, but I was not prepared to pay rent and the fixed costs associated with the second space (including a loan) in what appeared-to-be perpetuity. For months, Pioneer Square was a ghost town – there weren’t even cars on the street – but we opened in August nonetheless hoping that some revenue – any revenue – would save us from going under. Thankfully the strong support we’ve experienced at the Madison location has helped cover some costs while the Pioneer Square workforce slowly returns to the office spaces. It’s been a harrowing ordeal.
GSBA: How have you pivoted your businesses to meet the challenges and obstacles brought on by the pandemic?
Erin: Generally speaking, we’ve gone from being a community-based third space to a hamburger delivery operation. We’ve reduced our hours, created and implemented an online ordering system, adapted to running our product out to cars waiting curbside, and spent countless hours honing our relationship with third party-delivery platforms, which require no shortage of management. The interior of the restaurants have been adapted to meet the challenges of the times: plexiglass encased booths, contactless payment systems, and the elimination of stools and some tables. It’s an entirely different way of doing business, and all of the restaurants and bars in Seattle have suffered for it.
GSBA: How has being a Ready for Business grant recipient helped you and your business?
Erin: The grant has literally helped defray the costs associated with operating a to-go only business. The expense was unforeseen and continues as demand for specific items exceeds supply. For example, one year ago, latex gloves cost $55 a case, and today that same case costs $147 – the price increase is staggering. However, the Ready for Business grant carries with it more than financial assistance and access to resources. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I’ve always actively catered to my community. Though I no longer see my people in the seats at my restaurant, it’s nice to know that my community is still here. It means a lot.
GSBA: These days, what keeps you motivated?
Erin: Hope that this will end motivates me, as does the enduring support of my family and friends; they’ve been spectacular. Our customers motivate me. They show up weekly, filling their growlers and buying burgers to go — some tip the staff so generously it makes me tear up. But I think my team motivates me the most. They show up day-in and day-out, though the rules of engagement have changed, and their job responsibilities have all shifted. I had to lay off about ten people this time last year, and it was devastating. I feel a real responsibility to bring the people I have left through this.
Two Doors Down’s flagship location is located at 2332 E. Madison, next door to The Bottleneck Lounge, . Pickup and delivery options are available on UberEats, DoorDash, Caviar, and Square. Two Doors Down’s second location, 200 S. Jackson St, is open Tuesday through Saturday.