A decade of coffee for Fuel, just the start for one of Capitol Hill’s busiest food+drink entrepreneurs

IMG_8951It was a tough sell for Dani Cone ten years ago when she planned to open a coffee shop in a city already flooded with them.

“This was not my most novel idea,” Cone said sitting in Fuel on 19th Ave E. Novel or not, it worked, the shop is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

The milestone also marks a decade of business from one of the busiest food and drink entrepreneurs in the neighborhood. Coffee shops are what she knew, and after 10 years, Cone, whose business interests have expanded to include High 5 Pie and Cone and Steiner general stores, is just grateful for having the chance to work in a business she enjoys.

“Most important to me is really about the community, the customers and the people I get to work with,” she said. “I don’t know how I got so lucky. I really don’t.”

Cone grew up on Mercer Island, and was working at a deli there, since closed, called C’est Cheese. It was the early 90s and the coffee culture was just getting a foothold in many places across the country. While her main job was to make sandwiches, she also got on-the-job barista training when an espresso machine showed up there one day.

“It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, learn how to make these coffees,’” she said.

The barista training served her well, landing her jobs in Oregon and Colorado before she made her way back to Seattle. She found a job at Caffé Vita soon after she arrived here. After years at Vita, Cone was prepared to go out on her own.

“I stayed there until two weeks before this place opened,” she said.

In those early days she drew on her knowledge, and help from her co-workers at Caffé Vita. She said she was working open to close at the store back then, and sometimes her friends from Vita would come and take a shift behind the counter so she could take a nap in the back.

Even though she is about two blocks from Tully’s and its relatively deep corporate pockets, Cone said she was welcomed. And true competition never really formed. She notes that different people have different tastes, and, particularly in Seattle, there are people who will seek out small, locally-owned businesses. They are still coming through her doors.

“These are the same people who’ve been coming in since Day One,” she said.

That support has continued as her business has grown, unexpected as that growth has been.

(Image: prima seadiva via Flickr)

(Image: prima seadiva via Flickr)

“The plan was for this one shop, where I would live out my days working behind the bar and be happy as a clam,” she said.

But about a year after she opened, she got calls, offering her locations in Montlake and Wallingford. She was nervous about expanding. She’d not quite yet paid off her business loan from the first shop, and wasn’t sure where she’d get the money for opening others, but she decided to push ahead.

“I’ve been known to be a bit impulsive,” she said.

The Montlake store opened in November 2006, followed by Wallingford in April 2007. Since then, she’s expanded beyond coffee, with High 5 Pie opening in 2010, and putting the Cone in Cone and Steiner around New Year’s 2014. And that may not be all there is to the Dani Cone empire.

“”If I have the opportunity to do more, do I want to? Absolutely,” she said.

Fuel and High 5, by the way, are CHS advertisers.

Expanding, however, hasn’t made her life any easier, if anything, as her responsibilities have grown, so have her worries.

“I’m terrified every day,” she said. “Now there’s more people depending on me for jobs.”

But when that happens, she takes comfort in the community Fuel has built and the good times she’s had there. Such as the time when two members of her former neighbor, the Washington Ensemble Theater, got quietly married in a Christmas Day ceremony at one of the tables.

Cone, who lives nearby, has been excited about the changes in Fuel’s original neighborhood in recent years.The iconic Kingfish Cafe space will soon welcome new owners, Monsoon expanded, and the new building anchored by Tallulah’s opened. She’s been happy to see the area invigorated.

“I’m thrilled, and not just because I’m (a business owner) in the building,” she said. “There’s so many more people.”

But for the original Fuel, she doesn’t see a lot of changes. Looking around the space, she said there might be some parts of it she’d like to remodel, though she wasn’t sure on the details. She said she will, as always, work to keep up with the newest trends in the coffee culture.

“I can’t wait to see what’s coming next,” she said.

And she hopes to keep enjoying her work, her customers, and the people who work with her.

“This is not my accomplishment,” she said. “This is theirs.”

Fuel Coffee is located at 610 19th Ave E. You can learn more at fuelcoffeeseattle.com.

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