“With the heaters, it’s actually hot in there,” a representative for Ladybug Espresso tells CHS. The Puget Sound region chain of 30-something bikini espresso stands has quietly expanded to Capitol Hill, opening on Presidents Day at Broadway and Harrison.
The drive-thru stand offers a full selection of coffee drinks and, yes, a smiling barista in fancy underwear or a skimpy bathing suit to send you on your way. The pay is good, the rep said, telling CHS Ladybug baristas make more than minimum wage. The tips are better.
This is not the first bikini coffee stand on Capitol Hill. In spring of 2010, Barista Boyz did its thing at 12th and Madison for a few months before shuttering.
CHS asked Ladybug if the company would consider hiring men or transgender baristas to run its new Capitol Hill stand. It would be a company first.
“We haven’t really explored doing that,” the rep tells CHS, “but we’re definitely open to hire anyone willing and open to selling a good cup of coffee.”
This tiny business space has received more than its fair share of attention over the years. The Broadway coffee shack spun through a few owners since longtimer TNT Espresso closed in 2016. The latest venture, Kosmic Koffee, lasted less than a year. Messages to its owner about the switch to Ladybug were not immediately returned.
UPDATE 2/23/18: Kosmic Koffee owner Valerie Pettersen tells CHS that there is another part of the Ladybug Broadway story that involves her blood, sweat, and tears — and about $50,000 worth of work and equipment. “I put my heart and soul into this fucking little building, keeping the same essence it always had,” Pettersen said Friday. She ran Kosmic and did the work to put it back into business as a Broadway coffee shack, she tells CHS, and returned from recent travel for a funeral to find the locks changed and a new business in the stand. Pettersen said she’s facing a challenge getting her stuff back and proving that it wasn’t abandoned. She contacted a lawyer this week. Our calls to landowner Ron Amundson, owner of several commercial properties across Capitol Hill, have gone unanswered. UPDATE x2: Amundson tells CHS he decided to change tenants because he was unable to reach Pettersen and that rent was going unpaid on the stand. He had the equipment installed appraised — the value of $1,750 was part of the new lease with Ladybug.
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The Ladybug rep tells CHS it wasn’t on the hunt for a Capitol Hill location — the location found them when the landlord wanted to make the area more active as problems with camping and graffiti have increased and was looking for “a business model that will succeed” after a string of coffee entrepreneurs had cycled through the space in recent years. The stand’s grandfathered status as an active drive-thru business was highly desirable for Ladybug’s niche.
Upgrades to the stand and the parking lot will be part of Ladybug’s new investment in the corner. The brand’s ladybug polka-dots will be added to the new red paint job and new signage is coming. Each shack is fully tricked out with a complete security system including cameras, motion detectors, and panic buttons. The bikini barista industry faces security challenges beyond those of a standard coffee stand though attacks like this recent incident in Kent are rare. It also has been able to wrestle legal challenges to a draw — so far — in court thanks to the 14th Amendment.
Business has been slow at the newly opened Broadway stand this week. Most people walk by without noticing the drive-thru side is open. The company expects regulars to begin stopping through the stand more frequently as word spreads. Many of the baristas do their own social media marketing and let fans know about their upcoming shifts.
For locals on foot, the stand’s sidewalk-side street window will also be put back into action, the Ladybug representative said.
Ladybug Espresso is located at 324 Broadway E. Hours are 4 AM to 7 PM.