His name is Mark Canlis of the esteemed Canlis Restaurant in Seattle. Mark talks about how he works in so much more than a restaurant. Canlis has finally reopened after the pandemic and we felt this was the perfect time to re-release this conversation. When it comes to your most basic needs we can easily identify water, air, and food, but did you know we can distill down our most important emotional needs to love and belonging? We are hard-wired to love, be loved, and to belong. Listen in for the story and the legacy of the Canlis family.
Mark Canlis: The way that I raised my kids and the kind of husband that I am is the same that I am at work. So there’s no real separation between church and state in that way where there’s just one, you, there’s not like you at work and then you at home or you professionally, you personally. Um, there’s you doing personal things for you and there’s, you’re doing professional things at work. I take a lot of the lessons that I learned as a dad and up. Coming forth in a fine dining restaurant. It’s just who you are as a leader and to your, as a person. And I’ll tell you this, I got a long ways to go, but understanding that that’s one journey and not two has been really helpful.
Sarah Taylor: His name is Mark Canlis, of the esteemed Canlis restaurant in Seattle.
More about that in a minute. This episode is being re-released originally recorded in get this 2015 pre pandemic clearly. However, so much of what Mark talks about is it’s so much more than a restaurant, and you’re going to hear more about that in just a second, but I just thought it was timely as Canlis has finally reopened just very recently to re-release this episode.
So when it comes to your most basic needs, most of us would say food, water, air, shelter, you take it a step further…. did you know that we can distill down our most basic emotional needs, to love and belonging. Author and researcher Brené Brown has dedicated her life to the study of this. And she says that a deep sense of love and belonging is the irreducible need of all people. We’re basically biologically hardwired to love, to be loved, to belong. Now you might not naturally assume that that would be the direction we turn when discussing a high end, ultra luxury award-winning restaurant, but that beautiful theme is actually interwoven in our entire conversation you’re about to hear with Mark Canlis.
Canlis is the Pacific Northwest most celebrated restaurant voted most romantic, best view, best service, best design, top wine list and wine service,. Washington family business of the year and best overall restaurant. Basically, if restaurants were Grammys, Canlis would be Adele. What’s drawn me most though, is the stories that I’ve heard of these two whole hearted generous brothers who love to celebrate with others. So we begin talking with Mark about his family’s legacy.
Mark Canlis: My great grandfather grew up in Lesvos, which is in Greece and then famously, we always say, Um, he, he ran away, but we think he swam, actually, uh, to Turkey and it’s like, according to Google or that’s like five miles or 4.8 miles and then hitchhiked down to Cairo. And he got a job at the hotel MENA, which is kind of a famous old, wasn’t then, but old hotel, and Teddy Roosevelt was coming off his presidency and had just landed there and he was looking for people to go on his safari with him, and so they must’ve met my great-grandfather and said, come on, come cook. And so for a year and a half or so, they traveled through Africa and shot a bunch of animals and like taxidermy a bunch of them and ate the rest. And like, I know presidents don’t do this anymore… I wonder why. And so anyway. Yeah. So Roosevelt did this whole thing. And then at some point, a lot of that crew came through Ellis Island and, um, my great grandfather ended up coming across the country to Stockton, California. So he opened a restaurant there, we think in 1909 or something, 1910, called the seafood palace. That’s the name we got rid of, uh, at some point, which is probably a good thing, but, um, yeah, seafood palace, 1910 ish. And, um, he had some children with my grandma. She was Lebanese. A lot of the Greek and Lebanese population lived in Stockton in Stockton, California. And so. Um, my grandfather just grew up in the restaurant business. He grew up in this family, old country kind of place and, um, did all his homework on the tables and that kind of thing. And that’s the way it is now. And, and that’s the way it was back then. And he just grew up cooking and learning about food and it’s important. He had the opportunity to, to run the restaurant a little bit. And he and his dad didn’t agree on what it should be. My grandfather wanted it someplace that was just like shoot for the moon. Um, most beautiful restaurant in the world. He wanted, like, he kinda wanted to make it to be honest. I think he had kind of a chip on his shoulder from being an immigrant and seeing how hard his parents were working and he wanted credit for it. And, um, anyway, my great-grandfather didn’t. He wanted a family place. And so Peter Canlis, my grandfather went to, uh, Hawaii. We always joke that he swam, um, he didn’t probably, but who knows. Remarkable people in this family. Um, and then, uh, so he ends up out there and, um, it was selling dry goods when Pearl Harbor happened and like a lot of people, and I don’t know who went to the base and helped put out fires and just got involved. And, um, at some point made an offhanded comment about the food and then he ends up cooking and then he ends up running a lot of the food on base, the USO, the officer’s club and that kind of thing. So he earned a reputation for being able to cook. And in 1947 opened a restaurant called the Broiler, um, on a little unknown beach Waikiki. And that is what turned into the Canlis restaurant. So there were four of them at one point and he came here, uh, in 1950 and opened Seattle. And at some point there was San Francisco and Portland and, and then went back in 1954 and opened Canlis in Honolulu, which is the restaurant that many people remember. So, yeah. And then here we are today, a hundred years or so of restaurant history. My parents ran it for 30 years, uh, from ’77 when my grandfather died, uh, to about 2005, 2006. And, uh, now I do it with my little brother and we doing that for about 10 years. So that’s a lot of fun.
Sarah Taylor: What was that baton handoff like between your parents and your little brother and you.
Mark Canlis: Man, hard. Yeah. I made a ton of mistakes and, uh, I came back, I came back in 2003 and so tried to run the restaurant for a couple of years. It was really hard, you know, they have, uh, years of experience, you have combined 50, 60 years of experience. And then here you are, this kid who doesn’t know anything. And I wasn’t reckless. It was just not very good. Um, at some point dad said, I think he needs some help. And, uh, and he suggested, I was like, oh yeah. And so he kind of floated the idea of bringing Brian back and then, um, like parents do sometimes, like he floats the idea and then on a road trip through Scotland just sort of brings up like, Hey Brian, your brother, Mark’s thinking about inviting you back to the company. Maybe emotionally ahead of where I was at the time, but, uh, it’s still a road trip for Scotland, there was bagpipes in the background. The sun was hitting the clouds. Yeah. Brian, um, was in the air force. He was working with the air force one team at Andrews air force base. And, um, anyway, he just came back as an experiment and it worked like we loved working together and it really helped. Helped me out a great deal. So yeah, it was a hard transition and it’s like family transition is never easy. It’s just not going to be. And, uh, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. So I would say it was hard and good at the same time.
Sarah Taylor: Just to even sit back and hear the story of, you know, your great-grandfather swimming to Turkey.
Mark Canlis: It’s crazy. I think probably the truth of the matter, I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot. His families like broken it down, like the post after, you know, whatever you call it, the thing I needed to be. And so like probably what happened is that he, he got took a boat that wasn’t willing to land and then he jumped off the boat and swam in. But as far as we’re going with family history, he swam all 4.9 miles like a boss, you know, from one country out there and then he hitchhiked down. So he, um, yeah. Stud.
Sarah Taylor: Stories tend to grow a little bit with each year. It’ll be interesting the way that your own children recount this story.
Mark Canlis: Oh, absolutely.
Sarah Taylor: And a few decades
Mark Canlis: It’d be like with his, you know, new bride to be on his back, shark infested waters, and you know, the tray of caviar in one hand held aloft over the waves. Right. Well, probably didn’t quite happen just like that, but I bet you, it was very similar. It’s very similar to that.
Sarah Taylor: So with that history, we’re going to transition into some of the, the founding principles that Canlis operates on. And then I’m going to probably have you share a little bit, like expand upon those so that someone, they might not be in the restaurant industry, but we’re going to start talking about things like hospitality, service, generosity, things that Canlis is known for. And I would start with excellence.
Mark Canlis: Yeah. You know, it’s so funny when Brian and I came back, uh, Canlis had a whole bunch of values. It’s like this big list of words and they were really inspirational. They really, really were, um, from parents who listening to this, there were great words, mom and dad. Um, no one could remember them, but one of them was excellent. And, um, we sort of looked at these things and we thought, man, if we can’t remember them, maybe the list is too long. And so one of the first things we did was pair those down to three words and, and then we had to pitch that to our parents and to see if that was really striking at the heart of what they had been doing for 30 years. And that’s, that’s the current generation’s job is to, is to make the generation that you’re taking over from comfortable with what you’re doing. And those three words were trustworthy and generous and other centered. And it’s hard to let go of the other words, like hospitality and warmth and excellence and precision and whatever. Um, but, but we just found that everything that we needed was wrapped up into those three words and people could remember them. Um, and for us, so much of what they were doing, mom and dad were, were way ahead of their time, um, in terms of understanding that this industry was just about relationships. For us, that trust word, trust is like the currency of relationships. So we got to wrap a whole bunch of stuff into that word and say, gosh, if, if you can trust someone, then there’s a lot of foundation there to move forward. So, yeah. Excellence is important. Um, but if we weren’t excellent, you wouldn’t trust Canlis right. So it’s implied in that. Um, the, the one thing I want to be known for is that it’s a safe place. It’s a place that you can trust.
Sarah Taylor: How did you get to that process? You have to really distill down.
Mark Canlis: Oh, man. Uh, we were building a sign. I mean, yes. So here’s the thing. We have a restaurant on the freeway. And, um, anytime you do anything to the exterior of it, like the whole world comments. It’s like, I’ll be out there. I don’t know, picking a weed and then I’ll get a text from the neighbors, like, Hey, nice job in the garden today, you know? And then like you’re out there picking your nose and somebody honks and like, and like tweets about it. Like literally it’s a really public place. So when we went to change a sign, um, we just had to think a lot about it, um, what does it mean to drive past that place? And you see that building and it’s like conic 50 shape and you read those words and that word Canlis. And so we wrestled with it for a long time. Um, what does it mean and what do I want it to mean? And what do I want to be known for? And what do I want my kids to know us as like, so that’s how we got there. Um, we said excellence is great, I’d rather be known as being someone who’s trusted.
Sarah Taylor: You’ve mentioned before that when you’re hiring staff, you have kind of one trump card question that helps them land the job.
Mark Canlis: Yeah, maybe we were a bunch of weirdos the way that we hire, but, but we do, we have the big question and that’s um, who are you becoming? Uh, literally the question sounds something like how will working at Canlis help you become who you’re hoping to become? And I, we’re pretty passionate about it. That’s not a question you can ask upfront. I don’t think that’s fair. I think we used to do that early in the interview and I think to all those people that I, that I dropped that one too, I don’t think that’s fair. It’s a really vulnerable question. Um, to answer it well takes a lot of introspection and it takes feeling safe. And so now we do a few interviews and then at some point we’ll have you come in and stop and, you know, work at night just so you can get a chance to see what it’s like to be on the floor and you can get a chance to feel that out. And really, we’re just trying to get the person who’s coming in to understand if that’s what they want. And in so many ways, I think, um, for us, um, that’s a really important question. I think we see that throughout the scripture, and I think we’re asked that all the time. What do you want? And it’s a hard one to answer. Um, so if I can start having that conversation with a new employee, uh, then we start getting at the root of what really motivates and drives that person. And you bring somebody in like that and suddenly you have an incredible employee, right? That’s what, that’s what the goal is. So, um, that is the big question. And sometimes it takes all day or a few interviews or a couple of days maybe to get to it but our job as employers is to do what’s best for you. And if I’m not doing that, what am I doing exactly? I’m using you a little bit. And I don’t, I don’t want to be someone that uses other people.
Sarah Taylor: So what are some great answers you’ve heard to that question?
Mark Canlis: You kind of get that like welling up in like people just freeze. Okay. It was just what happens. You asked the question. One of two things happens. One is you get like the deer in the headlights and the person has no idea and then you get the script answer, and I was like, oh, whoa, that’s not where we’re going. So often we’ll have to take it to another place. Like, um, if you were the exact same person in three years, would you be happy or sad. Right. And a lot of us have a desire to grow or to change, to become something. And that allows them to do it. Or sometimes I’ll say, think of somebody that you love and what if you lost them, which is terrible thing I know to do an interview. Um, but honestly yeah. Gets you thinking in a particular way. It gets you thinking and, um, outside of how do I get this job and into, gosh, what really matters to me. Um, and so when that question goes well, you have someone who’s describing a hero or a role model, you know, a grandparent, and they are telling you all about this person. And they are telling you, man, you know, I even get emotional thinking about like my grandfather was this kind of a person and he had an incredible work ethic and he loved my grandma. You know, if you can talk that way, like then, then you’re getting somewhere, right. Now I know you. Now I know it drives you and I know what, and I know what you want to become. And my job is to help them become that. And if you’re not becoming, you’re really kind of in the wrong spot. I mean, that’s what we would say. Is like, you gotta be in a place where you can actually live into the person that you always hoped you could be, you could be. And so that’s the, that’s the idea. You, you push someone to that place and you say, gosh, what’s going on inside of you? And then if you work here, are you going to become more that way? Are you gonna become less that way? And if it’s less, let me help you get a job somewhere else. And it’s more, why don’t you show up to work tomorrow? Like that’s sort of the dividing line. I don’t really care how much experience they have. I don’t really care. I mean, if you’re working in the kitchen, you cut your fingers off. It’s bad. Right? So there’s some things that matter, but most of the folks we’re hiring particular in the dining room have little experience. That doesn’t, we can train that stuff. So I’m just looking for people of character and people who know what it’s like, um, to grow.
Sarah Taylor: Let’s shift from your employees to your guests. So many people, Canlis is a destination. Yes for the food, but more for the relationship that they have going on at the table. Can you share reasons people walk through those doors?
Mark Canlis: Yeah. Uh, it’s not really because they’re hungry. Um, though they ought to be, uh, they should be as a lot of food.
Sarah Taylor: Yeah, you were mentioning the other day that, um, you can’t make someone come to your restaurant still every day, even after all these years you open and you wonder, is anyone going to show up today?
Mark Canlis: It’s like for real, Yeah, every day at 5:30, you just wonder if people are going to come. And, and yes, most of them have reservations and it’s still a restaurant. And I say it to my kids, to the family and to everyone all the time, like you just don’t know, uh, what tomorrow or what next year brings for your company. And we have had years that were hard. We’ve had years where it’s less hard. And so trying to understand what motivates people to come in to a place like Canlis is really important to us. And so we studied that and we pay super close attention to them. And it’s not what you’d think. Um, people don’t come just for the food or just for the service. I mean, yes. So the food’s great. It’s amazing. The service is, is exceptional. The view is beautiful. The wine list is world famous. That’s not why we eat dinner together. Right? And so people will come because something in their life needs to matter. Like tonight needs to matter. And that ends up being what drives you to pick up the phone and make reservation. You’re saying to yourself, this is my daughter’s 16th birthday and I only have one of those tonight. That’s that night and tomorrow it’s gone. You’ll have a 17th birthday, but she won’t have another 16th. Right? Same thing with a woman having a C-section like tonight, we’re just a couple and it’s the two of us and it’s been the two of us for these years and tomorrow it’s the three of us, you know, Lord willing forever. And the night’s not going to happen again either.
Sarah Taylor: You mentioned one about sisters that flew in across the country.
Mark Canlis: Yeah, we had, uh, we had five or six, I think it was a party of seven. I think it was six sisters and, uh, their mom was dying of cancer. So they flew in, they flew in for dinner for one last dinner with her mom. Right. And the sisters lived all around the country and, um, I think the mom was getting treatment here in Seattle. So if we’re not aware of what’s going on, um, we’ll never be able to it. It isn’t about the food for them, right? It isn’t about the wine. It isn’t about how well we describe a dish or how fancy a linen… all those things, all those things have to happen. Those are just rules to the game. They have to, they have to be there in order to support what tonight’s really about tonight. It’s about one last thing with my mom. One last dinner, the seven of us. So, that’s what we’re trying to do or trying to understand. So funny, I’ve told that story a lot of times. I think what we’re trying to do is to understand the guests on a different level. Like when you stand at the front door of a restaurant, you have no idea what’s going to walk in.
I think what’s special about Canlis is that there’s 95 of us who at the end of the day, Really just want to know what’s going on with you, and they’ve really just want to serve you. And you can’t serve someone if you don’t take a minute to step out of your world and into theirs in that building and that place what’s been going on. And that’s what happened with the seven women upstairs. Right. And that’s what happened. Gosh, every night, like every night we have a meeting and every night I say, you guys do you know what’s happening tonight? I don’t. But you have to believe that someone tonight has cancer. Someone tonight is having a miserable time. Someone tonight is celebrating something that they have waited forever for. Right? Like someone tonight is having an anniversary and maybe years of their marriage have been hard. And tonight it’s working. Yeah, you just don’t know where they’re coming from. It’s the hardest part of the job and it’s easily the most rewarding part of the job, is to, for two hours or for three or four hours enter in and be a part of even, just to be, um, right on the periphery of like right on the outside of like your, I mean, literally physically you’re standing just on the other side, just on the outside of that table, right?
Yeah. The table is a special place. When we think of the guest, we try to understand like where, where they’re coming from. Like what place have they been in? And sometimes that means it’s, uh, someone from New York and they’re super foodie and they’re all geeked out. What chef Brady is doing. And the way to serve them is everything was precision is on point and you’re totally nailing descriptions and you’re pairing the wines, and, um, and that is what they need. Like, what they need in that moment is just to be celebrated with food, and technique, and the beauty, and the presentation of it. And all of that. They have come around from around the world to do a tasting menu or to try a particular wine. You know, that’s special. And sometimes what they need is space. Sometimes for them to use the simplest meal and none of the pomp and circumstance, they just need space. They need time to go to the table and then for that table you just stay in the background, you just disappear, you know. Maybe you don’t fold the napkin. Like maybe you don’t reach across and put the fork on the right, to that table, cause that might be intrusive. So like to understand the guest is, um, is the beginning of service. Does that make sense? And so, yeah, we’re just trying to figure that out every night and it’s like a big old puzzle. It’s a big old mystery. I don’t know. It requires let a discernment and a lot of good old fashioned, what the heck are we doing? Like literally, um, a lot of, uh, there’s a lot of head scratching. If you could see what happens in the background of the restaurant, like there’s a lot of like, does anyone know what’s happening on table six right now? Like, no, I have no idea. The coat room. There’s a lot of poking around peeking around corners and trying to like figure it out, you know? And sometimes we, and sometimes we miss like, like we miss big. We make big mistakes and it’s a bummer. It’s, it’s heartbreaking, but often we get it right. And that is so fun. It is so rewarding and, uh, it feels good. And that’s yeah, that’s what we’re doing over there.
Sarah Taylor: Was one of the reasons that it makes you emotional to talk about because you realized the weight of how deeply it matters, year after year, like the more you do this, have you only recognized even more?
Mark Canlis: You start to see, um, yeah. Yeah. I think you do. I think you start to see the weight. Um, you also start to get wrapped into the relationships. You watch families with multiple generations celebrate and then one year, one Christmas, they come in and grandma’s there, right. And you start to realize that that year, that tradition that 10 or 15, some families, 30, 40 years of coming in and celebrating a holiday in a place, you see those generations change, you see the kids grow up and you see the kids have kids and you start to realize the role that you’re playing. Um, and I think it gives perspective. I think it kind of shows you, your world is small and the big world is big out there and sometimes it’s broken and sometimes it is happy and you start to engage in all of, um, the joy of it and all of the messiness of it. And it’s a lot like it just, and I think I have to be honest, I think the other reason it can be emotional for me is that you’re also dealing with your own stuff. And, and you run into that every night in the restaurant, I’m like, oh man, here comes somebody and I just don’t have the space for them. Like I don’t have the emotional margin for them, or I just like, they just creep me out. I don’t know what it is not to say that the guest creeped me out, but, um, you know, sometimes you just don’t have it. And, um, and that may be because of whatever. And so. If that’s the case, you just, um, we’d like tag team out. Like, Hey, I can’t, I can’t deal with two with 23, but I can do 23, you know? And sometimes you swap out. And so for me, the restaurant is, it feels like a canvas. Like, it feels like K, this is me. This is me right now. And this is what I have, and this is what I have to give. And. That sign out there. That was a little piece of art and this paint color and that tablecloth and this class and that wine and the way these dishes go and, and that amount of salt, all of that is a little piece of what we’re trying to paint. And yeah, you feel exposed. You feel like, whoa, I hope this is working. I hope people like it, you know? And they do. And sometimes they don’t and, um, thank goodness that keeps us on our toes, but it is pouring out. It feels like that. And I want that for the staff. I want them to be able to come wholeheartedly onto that dining room floor, into that kitchen and pour themselves into what they’re doing, and because of it, they became the person they always dreamed of. That’s, that’s what we’re doing. And if people want to know why it feels good in that restaurant is because that’s what’s happening with the people who work there.
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Sarah Taylor: Now, back to this week’s episode, Give me an example, it can either be, it can be personal if you want, maybe three years ago, when you had an idea in three years, I hope to become more of, or it could be a story from someone on staff where you feel like you’ve seen the process that you just described. I want to become this.
Mark Canlis: Oh man.
Um, I have seen that so many times and that’s like one of the most special things in the world. Um, I see it with guests. I see it with staff. In my brother, my own parents. Um, I had a mirror like watched it in myself and, and you know, I’ll say this about it, um, it’s slow and it’s messy and being invited into that is like one of the great privileges, I think.
Um, so am I thinking of something specific right now? No, not particularly, not particularly one that would share on the radio either for myself or for somebody else. But, um, you know, we have a barrel of whiskey down there and that wine seller that I’ve met on a road trip brought back pretty much with my two brothers. And, um, and every once in a while we don’t, we don’t sell it. It’s exceptionally rare stuff. Um, and uh, every once in a while we toast with it though. We toast to that growth. And so when someone in the staff says, Hey, I think this is what’s going on with me, or this is how I want to grow, or this is how I want to change, that’s why that whiskey exists. Dry out of the barrel with this long glass pipit and just kind of suck it out with your thumb in it pours in this tiny little glass. Like here’s this stuff that isn’t anywhere else in the world, and we raise a glass to the courage to change you come down in that cellar and you say, this is how I want to change. I’m like, I’ll drink to that. Like, that’s cool. Right. Um, and I can’t tell you how many times we’ve all just been done, like weeping around this like barrel, but it happens. It happens with staff. It happens with random guests. I’m like, I don’t even know you guys. And what are you sharing right now? This is awesome, you know? Um, so it does happen. I just think sometimes we all need an invitation into that and… I don’t know, on a guest level and on a staff level, I want Canlas to be an invitation to grow. Yeah. To celebrate to be together in a meaningful way. We need that probably more than we’re aware.
Sarah Taylor: I know so many people listening to this are gonna, they’re going to be blown away by the humanity that you describe the things that matter at the heart of who we are. And they’re going to be wondering now how they can take their job as an electrician or a teacher or a stay at home mom and apply these principles to what their vocation.
Mark Canlis: Yeah. I don’t think this is Canlis specific in any way. I think what we’re doing there can be done in just about any job out there. I think what we’re talking about is, um, bringing your whole self and that starts with like an embracing of who you are a little bit like, all right, this is me. It isn’t perfect, but it’s beautiful. It’s glorious and it’s messed up, kind of all in one big jumbled together mess. And showing up to work that way is a frightening, vulnerable and incredibly liberating thing to do. If you’re the only one showing up to work that way, and I would emphasize the frightening piece if everyone was pretty closed off, but in a work community, people get that and like in a safe environment or it’s like, it’s the most amazing thing it really is.
And so, you know, for anyone in charge of a company out there, I would say, wow, you know, what’s so scary about creating an environment where that can be true. And a lot of businesses that we speak with a lot of leaders that I work with are, um, hesitant to do that, um, because it’s maybe a little counter-cultural. And I think it is, um, I look, I think Canlis is an experiment and this, I think it’s a hypothesis. I don’t think we have it figured out. I don’t think we have all the answers. And I think often we make a mistake too far on the other end, but if I’m going to, if I’m going to make a mistake, I’m going to make a mistake in that direction. And, um, that’s been a goal is how do we create an environment where this is a safe place? And then that’s why trustworthy is the number one value for us. Like it just, it just has to be. So we, we become like the people we spend time with that just is true. And I don’t know, I don’t know how to apply it necessarily. Look, all I know is restaurants in so many ways, but, um,
Sarah Taylor: But parenting, you’ve got three children. How do you incorporate a couple of the, like, how do you become trustworthy for your children?
Mark Canlis: Right. Oh, let me say this. And then I’ll answer that question. I don’t think that it’s just me and the Canlis staff who is in the business of relationships. I kind of think that most all business is about relationships. And if that’s the case, then most business is about trust. Because all relationships are around trust. I don’t care if that’s you and your spouse, you and your girlfriend, your aunt Trudy, your cat. Like your cat loves you cause it trusts you. Maybe it doesn’t because it’s a cat, but it’s, but your dog, I can talk about a dog, cause I don’t even have a cat, but like your dog trusts you or it doesn’t, you know. Advice for like, right. And that’s the same with like every relationship that we’re in. Like they they’re based on trust. So I just think that most of business is about relationships. It really is. Um, so I don’t think that the trustworthy thing is, is unique to Canlis. And, um, I do think it’s applicable sort of across the board in a lot of different ways.
I also think that, that the way that I raised my kids and the kind of husband that I am is, um, the same that I am at work. So there’s no real separation between church and state in that way where there’s just one, you, there’s not like you at work and then you at home, or you professionally and you personally. Um, there’s you doing personal things for you and there’s you doing professional things at work, but there’s kind of only one.
I take a lot of the lessons that I learned as a dad coming forth in a fine dining restaurant. A lot of the things I’m trying to understand as a husband and a coming out on one-on-ones with my staff, like, it’s just who you are as a leader, and it’s who you are as a person. And I’ll tell you this. I got a long ways to go, but understanding if that’s one journey and not two has been really helpful. Um, I hope one day that someone would say, oh, that Mark Canlis guy, not he was a great restaurant guy, I would hope it’s just like, he’s a great guy. That’s what matters more. That’s what I would want my kids to think. That’s what I’d want. I don’t know anyone think. Right. So I do think that we’re often, um, especially culturally tempted to separate our personal and professional selves and, um, it’s not a path that I want to go down. It’s a, it’s confusing. Uh, you ended up compromising both of them and, uh, it’s, it can be hard on morale. So we invite our staff to come as who they are like, this is you. And if you’re having a hard day, I got you because tomorrow I’m going to have a hard day and I need you to get me. But if you’re having a hard day, I don’t want you to hide that and pretend like everything’s fine. Cause you’re putting on your professional self. Everything isn’t fine. Right? Your world’s messed up. And I, and I can handle that. I have space for that. And so, um, when we talk about those other two values, generous and other centered, that’s the generosity. I’m not asking my staff to give money. Generosity isn’t a financial word. Anyone can be generous, right? It’s a condition of the heart. And so we’re just deciding as a staff, we’re going to make some room. We’re going to carve out space for somebody else. Somebody else’s bad day. Somebody else’s hard week. Um, that’s, that’s generous. And in so many ways I see the city as a generous city. In that, in that regard. Yes, we have a lot of philanthropic causes and initiatives here and it’s incredible. But again, I, um, gosh, particularly this time of year, yeah, I don’t see generosity as a financial thing. I, I see it as a, as a condition of your character, of your soul. It’s a decision you make in your heart and, and it is hard and it is worth it. Yeah. I’m terrible at it. Um, but it’s who I’m hoping to become. Um, and so when someone asks me that question around the barrel… okay, you’re going to get those values. I hope I am trustworthy. I want to be generous. I want to learn how to be other centered. And it is hard.
Sarah Taylor: You mentioned that you believe that the Pacific Northwest Seattle in particular is a generous city. You recently had a opportunity to witness that firsthand. The accident happened feet away from your restaurant.
Mark Canlis: Couple of hundred feet down the road. And that was, that was a hard day. That was my birthday actually and my dad and I were off spending some time together. So my brother was there at the restaurant. I think what stands out to me, um, about the accident on the bridge was the turning towards, and by that, I mean, um, so two of my staff watched that thing happen from one of the window tables. And she ran into the next door room where all the chefs, uh, Brady and his team of sous chefs were meeting, um, around a table. And she said, gosh, something terrible has happened. And then, um, they all ran out the back door onto the bridge and each of them not knowing what they would find. And what’s so remarkable about their response is I think it’s a, I think it’s a picture of all of us all the time. You run down a bridge towards an accident and you don’t, you can’t make sense of it. Um, it is a lot of confusion. Uh, there’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of unknown, but you go towards it anyway. And they did, and they ran down there and, you know, some of them just got there and didn’t know what to do. And some of them helped out in various ways. And some of them jumped up there and found people, others just found them on the street and held them. Uh, what was beautiful about that to me is that each of them in their own ways turned towards the hurt. And that’s something that I admire. That’s generous. That’s just saying this isn’t, this isn’t going to feel good to me. I, I don’t, I’m not capable of fixing this, but I’ll give you what I have. Um, sometimes that’s just presence. Sometimes that’s just holding someone who’s dying. Sometimes was even looking upon someone who has already passed away because their mom can’t and somebody needs to witness that. All of us all the time are walking past an accident, and that accident could be me having a miserable day and an accident could be you having a hard time with your marriage. And that accident could be my three-year-old at the sliver. And that accident could be a car accident on the bridge. What I’m proud of the staff and my brother for is just the way they responded, um, with their big hearts. And sometimes it’s all you can do. And was it enough? No, no, it wasn’t enough. But I don’t think they were called to have enough. Yeah. I think they were called to respond. So I admire that. Like, I want to be somebody who responds well. And as so often, I don’t know the answers. None of us do. It’s like, oh man, here we are. I don’t know what to do, but turning towards the hard thing I think is a great start.
Sarah Taylor: So much of what you share in that story, and just in some of the lessons that you’ve learned, it intersects with what you believe in your heart about God. Can you share a little bit about where that faith comes from for you or your faith journey?
Mark Canlis: My older brother’s a minister. Yeah. And he’s been doing that a long time, you know, at one point he said, Hey mark, I think I only have one sermon. I just keep hitting the same point over and over. And the story that I, man, I’m going to butcher this, but you know, you got two guys walking along, uh, following Jesus through a desert or something. In my head, it’s like a desert. There’s no cactuses, but there’s definitely like sand. And anyway, he like turns around and he says, you know, what do you want? And that moment, um, for me is, is a picture of how am I trying to say, um, I can envision being those two guys following and not having a good answer. I can envision Jesus turning around and saying, you’re following me. Oh, what do you want? And he’s like, I don’t know, but I am going to keep following you. I, so I think we’re drawn to things and sometimes that understanding them and, um, maybe that’s the story of my faith. Um, I’m not sure I understand it. Um, but I’m drawn to it. I think that we are constantly asked by our Savior, what do you want? And I think that’s the beautiful thing is that he gives us tons of freedom. He allows us to make good and bad decisions. He allows us to do whatever we want down here, but I think he lovingly keeps asking that question and helping us discern for ourselves what it is that we want. Um, what I want is to keep following, even though sometimes I don’t get it. And sometimes it seems like I don’t want that. Um, I want to respond well to take it back to what we were just talking about. Um, I don’t know. Maybe that’s why the restaurant is a good place for me or for us as a family. Um, maybe that’s the way we were raised.
It’s kind of our own curiosity and it’s a place we get to explore that a little bit. It’s a place where we get to figure out what we want and yeah, it’s a vetting ground, if you will, uh, uh, slash crucible. Um, it’s awesome. And I do love it. Good hard, difficult, emotionally beleaguering joy-filled completely uplifting… like you can’t imagine the range of emotions, like a bad Rocky movie. Like it just goes up and down. You know what I mean? And, and that, that journey, that adventure, uh, that’s not just me. I don’t think in a restaurant. I think that’s so many of us. Going to work or in our daily lives and, uh, and I think we’re being asked that question all the time. Whether we can see the one asking it or not? Beats me, I don’t think that matters. Um, I think all the time we’re being asked, what is it that you actually want? And do you want me, and you know, in my own marriage, Um, it’s the same way, right? We all want to be loved and wanted. And, um, and I think it’s that way with our kids. And I think that’s that way with our employees. I think it’s that way with our families. And so, yeah, this is an expression of our faith in so many ways, but I also think it’s an expression of who we are. Right. Like, I wouldn’t differentiate, this is my faith, me and this is my professional me. Again, there’s just me. You got one of me. Thank goodness. It’s probably all the world can handle, so yeah.
Sarah Taylor: Thank you for your time.
Mark Canlis: Yeah, totally. Thanks for having me.
Sarah Taylor: Mark Canlis. Clearly a rerelease of our original conversation, which was in 2015, which seems so long ago now, but yet so much of the principles of Canlis and what they stand for, I mean, that’s just that withstands the test of time. And I thought with the recent reopening of the restaurant, it made sense to rerelease all this beautiful wisdom. Thanks so much to Northwest University for sponsoring the Passion Meets Purpose Podcast. My name is Sarah Taylor. I’ll see you in two weeks.