On E Pike in the middle of the Pike/Pine entertainment district, plans for a place of re-education of the Capitol Hill coffee palate — and the coffee soul — are coming together.
“A Coffee 301, maybe,” Pipo Bui tells CHS. Bui along with husband and business partner Sebastian Simsch are bringing a new Seattle Coffee Works to Capitol Hill on E Pike between 10th Ave and Broadway, smack in the middle of the neighborhood’s already rich cafe culture.
It is that richness and the opportunity to elevate how we think about the source of our coffee that brings the project to E Pike.
“We’re really trying to understand where this coffee is coming from, trying to do it in way that isn’t exploitive,” Bui said. “Everybody involved is trying to make coffee better than it has been.”
Coffee Works was born in the mid-2000s when Bui and Simsch arrived in Seattle with expectations of landing in a coffee mecca. In the heart of the city’s downtown, they instead found a Johnny Rockets. Bui called it a “low moment” in Seattle coffee history when “Starbucks had bought up everything.” “You gotta go to the neighborhoods,” Bui said she was told. So the couple explored and decided to build a mecca of their own downtown using bits and pieces inspired by Seattle’s neighborhood cafes.
After opening nearby, Coffee Works had the opportunity to upgrade by taking over the very building where Johnny Rockets had been. They began roasting their own beans and the transition from multi-roaster to multi-farm began. The Coffee Works headquarters lives on Pike between 1st and 2nd Ave just up from Pike Place Market. A second Coffee Works is located in Ballard and was an opportunity to expand into the couple’s home neighborhood.
Today, Coffee Works is focused on leading the way on authentic direct trade coffee, ethically sourced from farmers, prepared with a lab-like focus on proper technique and innovation. Part of that equation is a price for a cup of coffee that delivers fairness all the way back to the farmer, Simsch said. He says he is interested to see if Capitol Hill will put its money where its heart is when it comes to coffee beans.
Bui, with a PHD in cultural anthropology, and Simsch, a labor historian who also totes a doctorate, see the coffee industry’s responsibility to build ethical supply chains as directly tied to its luxury. Nobody *needs* to drink coffee, Bui says. It is nothing but an everyday luxury. If we are to enjoy it, we should do so with the highest sense of responsibility possible, she says, handing CHS a pile of literature on the subject.
The new Coffee Works won’t open until 2017. Its home is still a risk — the space will have to make it through the city’s “change of use” process as it transitions from a retail space to a cafe. They had looked at new construction for their Capitol Hill project but decided being part of the history of an old-school Pike/Pine building was more their style. The condo sales office for First Hill’s Luma project the new Coffee Works will replace has since moved into the now open building.
The current plan is for something “completely different” for the look and feel of this Coffee Works compared to the downtown space’s mix of bits and pieces of Seattle cafe culture and a busy roasting facility. Designed by Atelier Drome architects, Bui said the small 20-foot by 40-foot space will be about “serious coffee” and a place to drink and talk about the brews. “This is not going to be like a sandwich place,” she said. “It’s going to require a level of sophistication from Coffee Works to make it happen.”
After surviving the economic meltdown of the late 2000s, Coffee Works marked its 10th year in business this Labor Day. Despite the ups and downs of business and the massive risk of trying to take coffee to another level in an highly caffeinated Capitol Hill, Bui and Simsch continue to believe in the cause of small batch coffee.
“Coffee as exploitation? Who would like to drink coffee like that?” Bui challenges. “Coffee should especially ask these questions.”
“It is possible. You don’t have to wreck the world to supply food to it.”
Coffee Works Capitol Hill is planned to open at 907 E Pike in early 2017. You can learn more at seattlecoffeeworks.com.