The staff at Ivar's Restaurants say they were shocked and saddened to learn the popular seafood chain has been asked to leave the Sea-Tac Airport location its called home for the last 12 years.
The restaurant shared the news with customers on its Facebook page, saying their lease had not been renewed.
"We're hugely disappointed," said Ivar's President Bib Donegan. "We are one of the Port of Seattle's best tenants. We've served more than three million customers in the 12 years we've been there."
Donegan says they've also paid the Port of Seattle more than $5 million in rent during that time. He says Ivar's has earned a reputation as one of the best airport restaurants in the country.
"There's one airport restaurant that's earned 17 awards at the airport, typically for the best 10 airport restaurants in the country. More than all other restaurants at the airport combined. And the port has chosen not to renew our lease. So that concerns us," he said.
The Port of Seattle said it wasn't a matter of their lease not being renewed.
"From our standpoint, Ivar's has been a great tenant," said Perry Cooper, a spokesperson for Sea-Tac Airport. "Unfortunately what the situation is, is that when leases end here, we have to do an open competitive bid process. Unfortunately, they did not turn out to be the high score in the particular space they applied for."
Cooper said the airport had three times as many applicants and bid proposals than in previous years.
But Donegan believes the bid process was flawed.
"The selection criteria were not appropriate, and the committee that evaluated the proposals had no business experience and no experience operating airport restaurants. We think they made bad choices," said Donegan.
In fact, he filed a formal protest, asking the Port of Seattle Commission to review the bid process, and in his words, "make it right."
The restaurant also launched a website and online effort to #KeepIvars, asking customers to contact the Port of Seattle Commission and ask them to let Ivar's stay.
The Port of Seattle says that just because Ivar's lost the bid for its current location doesn't mean that it can't move to another open space at the airport.
Currently, there are 86 retail and food spaces at Sea-Tac. When current redevelopment is complete, there will be 135 retail and food spaces.
"So we want to encourage anybody who may have lost this round to apply for the next round. There are opportunities that are still out there; this bid process is not over. And we want Ivar's or anyone else who might've lost to apply for another spot in this next set of leases," said Cooper.
Donegan worries the timing might not work out for his employees.
"We have 23 employees at the airport, and those new spaces won't come online for a year or 18 months after the existing one closes," he said. "So we proposed to the port, if you identify a location we can move in quickly and save our employees' jobs, we would be glad to look at that. But we don't want to have to lay off 23 people."
So what business beat out Ivar's in the bid process?
Another seafood restaurant. The Port of Seattle says Lucky Louie Alaska Seafood Shack will be moving into Ivar's current space at the airport.
"When our customers discover that Ivar's won't be in the airport after January 2018, they're going to be angry," said Donegan. "There's something very fishy here, and I don't mean in a good way."