When former Scratch Deli owner Ian Thackaberry wanted to find someone to take over his business, he didn’t have to look far. No farther, in fact, than his own kitchen and counter crew.
“The old owner came to each of us individually being, like, “Hey, would you have any interest in doing this?” Scratch’s Daniel O’Connell said.
As it turned out, they would. But only if they could do it together, and share the responsibility of running a business they love.
The result? O’Connell says he and three coworkers — Brandon Frosch, Erika Macias and Laura Rains — teamed up and bought Scratch from Thackaberry on October 1st. They also took over the lease to the building that houses the deli.
“I think it worked out for all of us,” says O’Connell. “It was a very serendipitous occurrence.”
The four were already accustomed to flexibility and collaboration. At Scratch, which relies on local ingredients for a menu focused on sandwiches and salads, they had each worked both in the kitchen and behind the counter.
“We’ve always sort of stuck with the philosophy of everyone knowing how to do everything makes everything easier for everyone,” says O’Connell. Now that they’re in charge, splitting up the work means nobody feels overwhelmed. So far.
Scratch’s complex history includes its start as a food truck, a 2011 transition to the converted house it now calls home, and years as a performance venue. CHS covered the deli when it joined forces with Tristan Devin’s cafe People’s Republic of Koffee at Scratch’s 12th Ave address, and again following Devin’s death in 2012.
Employees taking over the businesses they’ve poured their hearts and souls into seems to be one of the limited set of outcomes for an owner stepping away and moving on. CHS covers plenty of closures. Recently, we were happy to report on new employee-owners at Bait Shop and the plan for a worker-owner cooperative to take over 15th Ave E’s Liberty.
The new employee-owners at Scratch haven’t made any big changes, except to the schedule: a switch from a day or two off each week to remaining open from 10 AM to 5 PM, all week long. But there’s new work on the walls from local artists, and O’Connell is looking into booking performances for Scratch’s small stage.
And in a place that captures the eclectic, inventive, slightly worn feeling of an earlier Capitol Hill, not shaking things up very much should be a smart move.
“I think we all are trying to maintain the essence of Scratch Deli,” O’Connell says. “It has a particular vibe to it.”
Scratch Deli is located at 1718 12th Ave. You can learn more at scratchdeli.com.