Canlis is an iconic Seattle restaurant.   Self-described as “Seattle’s landmark fine-dining destination for 66 years, offering Pacific NW fare in a midcentury-modern home,” Canlis is known as the spot where you celebrate major milestones in life:  marriage proposal, wedding anniversary, or being crowned the wealthiest person in the world .  It’s one of the few, possibly only, restaurants in Seattle that requires men to wear a jacket. Even Anthony Bourdain donned a jacket to eat here. 

Canlis is a special restaurant for special occasions that comes with a “special” price tag.  A reasonable evening there runs about $200 per person.  Impeccable service. Legendary cuisine.  Remarkable brand.    At least that’s what I’ve heard….I’ve never been there. 

Every evening on my commute home, I drive by Canlis.  Still, despite a number of Canlis-worthy milestones and a keen interest in the deeper meaning and experience of food, I’ve never felt compelled to visit “Seattle’s most exclusive restaurant.”  

“Creepy Bear Throwing $200 Underground Dinner Parties in Seattle.”  In October 2017, I stumbled onto an article in Seattle Magazine titled, “Creepy Bear Throwing $200 Underground Dinner Parties in Seattle.”  (Now that’s some good click bait.)  Within minutes of reading that account, I found myself devouring more reviews describing this” pop-up restaurant” that started in San Diego and had recently expanded to Seattle. The price tag  ($195/person) is nearly the same as an evening at Canlis, but that’s largely where the similarities end.  Also known as Cow by Bear, the experience includes the following:

  • An unidentified chef  with incredible culinary skills wearing a bear costume . The Bear’s identity is never revealed.
  • A five-course-meal paired with wine and cocktails headlined by a 50-day-aged ribeye (“Cow”) served by two-ish people: A hostess and Bear.
  • Limited to 14 people per evening, three nights a week (Thursday/Friday/Saturday).  
  • All 14 people sit together at a communal table.   
  • Like the chef’s identity, the location of the restaurant is a mystery: 24 hours prior to reservation, patrons receive an email that identifies the event location.   

The concept was so creative, so unique, so….weird, that I was overwhelmed with intrigue and an insatiable desire to reserve a spot. To my disappointment, Cow by Bear was booked for months.  To my opportunistic advantage, the first available date landed within a couple days of my birthday providing the necessary spousal-justification to spend that kind of dough.    Watch this Bear biography video and you’ll see why.

20 years ago, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote a fascinating white paper called, ” Experience Economy”.  The basic premise is that unique experiences establish competitive differentiation that, in turn, command premium pricing.     


Although this paper was written when Mark Zuckerberg was a 14-year old freshman at Ardsley High and people were making calls from land-lines, the central thesis is still relevant today:  Consumers seek experiences and are willing to pay for it.     So what can wealth management learn from the Cow by Bear model?  

Wealth Management by Bear.

Wealth management is at a crossroads with incredible pressure bearing down on every level within the financial services stack.   The accelerating velocity of change makes the path to success more challenging, but Cow by Bear offers four keys takeaways.

  • Creativity.    First, do NOT dress up like a bear. “Wealth Management by Bear” is a bad idea.  (Trust me, I’ve thought this one through.)  The getting-better-but-still-stodgy financial services industry possesses a tremendous opportunity to flex creativity within your positioning, culture, and client engagement.  This is especially true when deploying the “reduction sauce” methodology that leverages authenticity to uncover the priorities in your clients’ lives.  Asking the right questions to reveal the greatest insights provides the fodder to design and deliver creative ways to engage your client. 
  • Exclusivity.    The Bear only serves 14 people per night, three nights a week.  How many “seats” do you have at your table?   Too many advisors have too many clients, which often leads to organizational instability, liability, and brand erosion.   You can meet this challenge head-on by viewing the business from a bottom-line perspective (EBITDA) rather than a top-line perspective (“all revenue is good revenue”).  Although EBITDA-based decision making may not reveal your true”exclusive” number of clients, it’s a critical step to right-size the business. The ultimate move toward exclusivity rests upon a well-designed and well-executed segmentation strategy that delivers clear, compelling differentiation from segment to segment. 
  • Exceptional quality – It would be easy for Cow by Bear to cut corners in an attempt to let creativity and exclusivity serve as the anchors to justify the premium price.  Instead, they accelerate the premium offering by providing exceptional quality at their core deliverable of food.    Five outstanding courses, paired with amazing wine and cocktails, highlighted by a 50-day aged ribeye is an incredible meal at any restaurant. Bells and whistles can draw attention, but if the core deliverable is mediocre, then the impact of the experience suffers mightily.   The wealth management industry has never been better equipped to deliver exceptional quality when it comes to goals-based investing, the core of wealth management. Innovative companies continue to launch tools that facilitate client relationship depth, corresponding investment optimization, and best-in-class service. The triple threat of creativity, exclusivity,  and exceptional quality serve to be an unstoppable force. 
  • Community.   In most settings, the promise of sitting at a table of strangers for 2.5 hours is very unappealing.  Cow by Bear eliminates traditional barriers by leveraging creativity, exclusivity, and exceptional quality to create an environment ripe for relationships and a foundation for a memorable experience. In the video above a woman @ 2:47 accurately says, “the pretentiousness of dining goes out the window.”  The 14 people at the communal table have license to be more authentic because the dogma of fine dining has been successfully removed. In a similar fashion, the best wealth management firms follow this mantra by removing the dogma of financial advice to create stronger, deeper client relationships.   They then capitalize on the depth by successfully organizing these relationships in a way that yields tremendous value across all stakeholders within the firm’s ecosystem — from affinity groups and professional referrals to connecting people with common interests.    

Old School vs New School:  Which one are you? 

As informed consumers continue to push wealth managers to re-engineer the way they deliver value – old school wealth management, old school asset management, and old school practice management will give way to a new school of innovation.    That intersection is upon us as technology continues to break down the barriers that have served as the moat to the fortress.  GvG17 is on a mission to build an exclusive community of professionals eager to deploy the type of quality and creative innovation represented by Cow by Bear.  Drop your email address below if you’re interested in being on our launch list.  

There is no shortage of Canlis-type offerings within financial services: formal, established, and predictable; but that saturated approach is becoming increasingly more risky. What do you do if you want to stand out from the crowd?  Look to the bear: 

“When you’re a 900-pound bear, you’re free to be different and try things that humans might typically find absurd. So every dinner I put on is an experiment in a way.   Trying something totally fresh and unique.  That’s the way I like to cook.  That’s the way I like to let my fur down and shake my little bear fanny.”


The answer lies within – Tap into your authentic self to reveal the qualities that make you and your business unique.  You, your clients, and your team will not only survive, but thrive in the wild habitat of wealth management.  

Monday Morning Joe

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