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Capitol Hill food+drink | All-star vegan chef Howell plans Sugar Plum transformation on 15th Ave E


(Image: Sugar Plum)

Howell -- celebrity vegan chef -- visits Wendy Williams (Image courtesy Plum)

Howell — celebrity vegan chef — visits Wendy Williams (Image courtesy Plum)

What a wonderful world. On Capitol Hill, ice cream and cookies are signs of maturity. Makini Howell, the Capitol Hill-based vegan food and drink entrepreneur behind the Plum family of bistros, cafes, pantries, and burger trucks, says her next venture in the neighborhood will be a sweet shop — though longtime fans of her little 15th Ave E cafe might find the news bittersweet.

“In order to stay relevant, you gotta keep up with the market,” Howell tells CHS of her plans to convert her longtime vegan cafe into a brand new 15th Ave E vegan ice creamery and sweet shop. “And maybe it’s a sign that I’m ready for what’s next. Everything. On 15th. My life. The city.”

Howell says the transformation of the tiny little cafe where she got her true start in vegan culinary skills will begin at the end of October when Plum Cafe closes and begins making way for Sugar Plum. She hopes to have the buildout complete before the end of winter. But first she’ll say goodbye.

(Images: Plum)

“I grew up as a vegan chef at the cafe,” she said. “It taught me how to have Plum. It taught me how to give people what they want.” To give the place its due as it falls just short of 10 years on the block, Howell said she is planning a goodbye celebration for customers to get one last taste. Watch for an announcement. In the meantime, she says, part of the cafe spirit will live on in the four-wheeled component of her many ventures — the Plum Burgers truck. The truck, she hopes, will be able to keep her tradition of 4th of July vegan BBQ parties alive in 2015.

The community can also take part in helping create the new life for 324 15th Ave. Like the cafe at gluten free 15th Ave E bakery Nuflours that is slated to open next week, Howell is turning to Community Sourced Capital for her loan to help finance the Sugar Plum project:

Plum is at it again! This time we want to bring you Seattle’s first vegan ice creamery and sweet shop. We put the city’s first vegan burger truck on the road through Kickstarter thanks to the love of Seattle. Now here we go again – however, this campaign is slightly different. We are asking you not to donate, but to join with us and fuel the growth of our innovative ideas, by buying a square to fund a larger loan. As we grow, you get repaid in full. But, the best part is, you’re helping to create the kind of community you want to see, through sustainable community lending. Community Sourced Capital, our partner in this venture, has a new way of thinking about funding business ideas. They gather together folks that believe in community and building better neighborhoods just like we do. So please join us in building something Sweet!

The loan system is powered by community members willing to back a no-interest loan to a neighborhood business — $50 at a time. Howell is hoping to raise at least $23,000 for the Sugar Plum campaign which she will then be on the hook to pay back over the coming years. You can learn more and give here.

The cafe has gone through a few brand changes over the years -- here it is in the Sage days (Image: Plum)

The cafe has gone through a few brand changes over the years — here it is in the Sage days (Image: Plum)

When it reopens in early 2015, Howell says to expect “that old school feel of a candy shop” with gluten free, vegan, and dietarily sensitive wonders. “I want it to be an exciting spot to come have a treat. Imagine amazing, big chocolate chip cookies,” she said. OK! Imagining!

As the area’s entertainment economy matures and increasingly specializes, Sugar Plum joins an amazingly healthy wave of dessert-focused ventures on Capitol Hill in a neighborhood that not that long ago was still clamoring for one single dedicated ice cream shop to open. Last month, CHS reported that another sweet-toothed venture is planned for the Hill as a Hot Cakes “cakery” is set to bring molten chocolate cakes and a s’more fire pit to E Olive Way where B&O Espresso once stood.

Meanwhile, along with dedicated venues like Nuflours and the Highline, Sugar Plum will also be part of one of the strongest alternative food and drink scenes in the country, Howell said.

“We’re the capital of fresh food and veganism,” she said. “And a kick-ass place for women to run a business.”

As for her ventures, Howell declined to try to add up how many people work for her vast vegan empire centered around the 2009-born 12th Ave flagship Plum Bistro these days.

“I’m really just trying to build a really good vegan community,” she said. “It takes sweets. It takes savory.”

You can learn more at

Capitol Hill food+drink notes

  • bagdad PB1...whisk7Speaking of dessert, how about pie? Capitol Hill-born Pie Bar is expanding to Ballard, CHS has learned:
    Pie Bar is expanding & the next location is 2218 NW Market Street in Ballard, next to Ghost Light Theatricals, Matador, Ballard Station & the 18th Starbucks.We have taken over the historical building of the Bagdad Theater. It was converted into The Great Harvest Bread Company in 1999.
    The historical space is 1800 square feet with a state of the art pie making kitchen.My carrousel pie oven in Ballard is as big as my entire kitchen in Capitol Hill. I can bake 90 pies in an hour and a half, right now I can make 25 in that amount of time. So for most of the day in Cap Hill, I am waiting on my oven’s rotation to finish my bake.

    Our plan is to centralize the pie making in Ballard, so we can make more pies for Capitol Hill. Right now, I am making 70 pies a day on a busy night in Capitol Hills tiny little space. The kitchen is about 250 square feet, maybe as big as a master bedroom closet. There are pies everywhere. It’s quaint but it makes me want to have a drink around noon while I am babysitting my pies!

    “The vision for all of our Pie Bar locations will look identical, kinda like its owners (identical twins),” Pie Bar’s Lyss Lewis tells us. “When you walk into Pie Bar or see it from the street, you will be like, Oh that’s Pie Bar. Pie Bar Ballard will have the same hours as Pie Bar Cap Hill and a walk-up window on Market Street.” Expect an opening sometime around Christmas. Lewis and twin sister twin sister Natalie Delucchi opened the first Pie Bar on Capitol Hill in April 2013.

  • Is Seattle Becoming Cider City?” Sure. Goes great with pie.
  • Want to work at the new Capitol Hill Starbucks roastery? Job fair is Thursday:
    We’re always working on new concepts & innovations and this winter, we will open a world-class micro roaster in Seattle! The Reserve Roastery will be part roasting plant, part museum, part cafe, and part classroom to create a grand international theater of coffee.  
  • “If you’ve been to Racha and Wassef Haroun’s Middle Eastern restaurant on Capitol Hill, you have surely noticed the colorful communal tables up front, across from the bread-baking kitchen…
  • Pioneer Square’s Cafe Nordo has a few Capitol Hill connections and they want you to know about a fundraising campaign to help the venue.
  • The backers of the 10th and Union sushi restaurant from the owner of Musashi’s have opted for a different name for the project. Gokan is planned to open before the end of the year at 954 E Union.
  • It’s nearly time for Porchlight Coffee to end its E Pike expatriation.
  • Meet chef Maegan Rasmussen of Cafe Barjot.
  • We’d drink it.

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5 thoughts on “Capitol Hill food+drink | All-star vegan chef Howell plans Sugar Plum transformation on 15th Ave E

  1. I’m excited for an all vegan ice cream shop on 15th! Molly Moon’s only got one vegan flavor, and while it’s really good (coconut chunk) I’m looking forward to more flavors!!

  2. I’m so excited for this! We need more vegan treat options. Food allergies are the worst, vegan treats are so appreciated!

  3. Pingback: Capitol Hill food+drink | Niche ‘100% dedicated’ gluten free cafe and bakery coming to 12th Ave | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle