Espresso Vivace owner David Schomer knows as well as anyone that Capitol Hill’s upheaval can threaten even the most established neighborhood businesses. In 2008 Vivace had to move into the Brix building when its longtime Broadway home was torn down to make way for Capitol Hill Station.
For years, Vivace has roasted its coffee inside an 11th Ave warehouse in the heart of Pike/Pine. With no retail component to help pay the rent and demand for space at a premium, Schomer told CHS he knew his time on 11th Ave might also be limited.
So when owners of the Garage pool hall and bowling alley told Schomer they had an unused basement space that could accommodate the roasting operation, Schomer jumped on it. Vivace will take over the underground Broadway space in August with plans to start roasting in December.
“We were not sure how long we could hold on to the (current) roasting facility,” Schomer said. “I’m always looking for the best buildings to move into.”
Since Vivace will hold on to its two roasters and small-batch processing method, Schomer said coffee output would only increase slightly in the new 5,000-square-foot space.
Coffee roasting on Capitol Hill is nothing new, but the arrival of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery has put a new focus on perhaps the only manufacturing industry thriving in the neighborhood. Other neighborhood roasters include Vita, Victrola, and Stumptown.
The new space won’t include a retail component or an exposed roasting operation that is as much for show as it is for function, but it will give Vivace an 1,000 more square feet for a training area and employee lounge. The cooler basement will also be better for storing beans, Schomer said. It’s no small investment — the base construction budget for the project starts at $550,000. Of course, Starbucks is believed to have spent more than $30 million to create its Melrose roastery.
For Schomer, it’s worth spending more to stay on Capitol Hill so he an his staff can continue to walk to work.
“Staying out of a car is a huge deal for me and Vivace generates almost zero car trips to operate a 50 person staff,” Schomer said. “Fifteen dollars an hour cannot come fast enough so my staff can continue to live on the Hill.”
UPDATE: According to Schomer, Vivace employees make anywhere between $14-$30 an hour. “We cant go up anymore and remain competitive until my competition has to pay more, ie. charge more/cup,” he said in an email to CHS.
The roasting project is yet another investment in the area around Broadway and Madison. Across the street from the Garage and new roasting facility, a Whole Foods is slated to be part of a new 16-story building expected to open by the end of 2017.
Vivace’s history is steeped in Capitol Hill. Schomer first started pulling Vivace shots in 1988 behind a sidewalk cart on Broadway. Along with Brian Fairbrother, who died in 2011, Schomer opened the Broadway sidewalk cafe and the Broadway coffee shop. On the day CHS spoke with Schomer, a film crew was interviewing him for a documentary on U.S. espresso pioneers.