The story could be right out of the dreams of a Hill veteran jaded by change. More than a decade after their coffee cart left Broadway for an indoor space and the student-rich soil of the Ave, Joel Wood, Doug Sowers and Cafe Solstice are back on Capitol Hill with a vastly expanded operation just a block off Broadway.
Some 10 months after CHS first broke news of the plans for Solstice’s expansion back to the Hill, and right in time for Summer Solstice (can’t get one by us!), the doors of the new location will open this Saturday for an open house. Wood says there will be coffee for a dollar and some free pastries, and that booze and kitchen items will be available for happy hour prices all day starting at 7 am. CHS originally reported that the new Solstice was hoped to be open before the end of 2013. However, a marathon DPD process and the challenge of building out a brand new space in a brand new building drew out the timeline for getting things off the ground, Wood said.
The cafe will close again following Saturday’s party for a few finishing touches during the week. Owners Wood and Sowers hope to have the cafe open in full capacity for Pride weekend, with a push to be at full throttle by Thursday, June 26th.
As close as it is to Broadway’s bustle, Solstice sits on a surprisingly quiet and green corner at 10th and Thomas, in the only commercial space on the backside of The Lyric building.
The new Solstice will serve a variety of uses throughout the day — and night. “It’s not a straight cafe, it’s not a straight bar, it’s for everybody,” Wood said.
“It’s completely inclusive,” Solstice general manager Sarah Schafer said. “I think that has been a vision and a hope.” Like Roy Street Cafe farther up Broadway, the restrooms at the new Cafe Solstice are splendidly gender neutral.
Schafer says she frequented the Solstice coffee cart when she was 17 and she helped open the Cafe’s location in the U-District. She recently moved back to Seattle after a few years from LA, with some kids of her own in tow. “I think what’s kind of missing — I used to live on Capitol Hill for years — is that real strong sense of community: you become a regular, you go to places, ‘everybody knows your name,’” she said. “I think that’s going away from the Hill a little bit, and I think we can bring that back — a personal relationship with our customers,” she said.
Solstice is also bringing back some pieces of the pizza past, with platters and a portrait dubbed “Grandma Piecora” from the dearly departed Piecora’s. And while the pizzeria may be a memory to be kept alive by former devoted fans, Solstice is back on the Hill to stay, says founder and co-owner Wood.
His biggest hopes and goals as the new location is set to open? “First, it’s ‘get it running smooth,’ work out the kinks throughout the summer,” Wood said. “And then just build a loyal customer base and turn it in to one of those Seattle landmarks,” Wood said. “And get that lived-in type of feel.”
Wood says Solstice could not have found a better spot for their second location to take root. “In our opinion there is no better space in the entire city for us, being we started 50 yards away or something,” Wood said. “And the neighborhood.”
“The neighborhood is great,” said Schafer. “I think the location is so peaceful.” Schafer says it was snowing cherry blossoms this spring at the green-lined corner.
The new digs offer some 3,500 square feet of floor space with mezzanine included. The space is less than a block from the alcove in front of the current Jai Thai space where Solstice started as a coffee stand in 1993. That was back when the Hill’s coffee culture was relatively just a sprout.
Solstice serves Seattle-roasted Lighthouse Coffee, and will stock a selection of in-house baked pastries at the Capitol Hill location including white chocolate banana bread, Schafer said. Vegan and gluten-free options will be available.
By the way, Capitol Hill is soon to be graced with yet another June birth of a new cafe venture as Joe Bar’s Wylie Bush is planning to debut his new Cafe Barjot coffee shop and juice bar on Bellevue Ave.
In addition to coffee, Cafe Solstice Capitol Hill has twelve taps that will pour a number of local beers, Wood said, and will start out featuring nine wines. Wood says he hopes to add spirits to the menu at the new location soon. The kitchen will offer soups, salads, sandwiches, breakfast and lunch items, and will “get in to some bar food later in evening,” Wood said.
Schafer says the cafe will host game nights and monthly music featuring “an iconic” DJ who she would not reveal the name of just yet. Scheduled to open at 6 am on weekdays and at 6:30 am on weekends and to stay open until midnight daily, Solstice will also provide another later-night gathering option as Broadway’s nightlife culture gets back on track.
Part coffeehouse, part bar and part bistro, perhaps, the new cafe is meant to be “a community meeting space,” Schafer said. “It’s to bring people together, so in the morning people have coffee together and they talk, and at night they have a beer after work — they talk, they hang out,” Schafer said. “It’s about creating relationships.”
Cafe Solstice Capitol Hill is located at 925 E. Thomas. You can learn more at cafesolsticeseattle.com.
UPDATE — 6/27/2014 — 9 AM: Cafe Solstice Capitol Hill is open!