Third-generation owners and brothers Mark and Brian Canlis personify reinvention and resilience. They compare running Canlis, the fine-dining restaurant founded by their grandfather 71 years ago, to driving. “You are mainly looking ahead through the windshield, but you’d be a fool not to look in the rearview mirror,” says Mark. Case in point--the only item still on the menu from 1950 is the beloved Canlis salad, whose Mediterranean flavors originated with his grandmother.
But according to Mark, anyone can change a menu. The more difficult work is innovating around the restaurant’s mission to “inspire people to turn toward one another.”
That’s exactly what they did when the pandemic forced them to temporarily close. Seeking ways to build community during the shutdown, they transformed their business into a drive-in movie theater, roadside barbecue and a crab shack. They launched Canlis Community College, live streaming classes on food, wine and other life skills to 13,000 people, raising $60,000 for local hunger relief and job training, after paying the mortgage, healthcare and salaries for remaining staff.
Not that these endeavors earned anywhere close to the previous profit margin. “Profitability is simply one of the rules of the game; it’s not the mission,” says Mark.
Nearly all the employees who worked at Canlis pre-pandemic have returned, although the restaurant is open 5 rather than 6 days a week, a much better work-life balance. Former chef Brady Williams left Canlis to open his own restaurant, Tomo, in the favorable real estate market. Rather than mourn his loss, the Canlis brothers celebrate his success. “I couldn’t be more proud...it’s like he graduated,” says Mark.