It probably really is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” The 1904-built, two-story market and apartment these days known as the Volunteer Park Cafe is for sale. And, yes, the popular neighborhood cafe in the middle of some of Seattle’s most expensive residential real estate is part of the $1.7 million package.
“It’s a very, very unique deal. It’s so unique for the owner of the business to own the building as well in a location like this,” co-broker and Seattle commercial real estate expert Laura Miller tells CHS.
“The neighborhood should be really happy about the opportunity. It’s a great building,” Dustin Van Wyck, the other broker working on nailing down a deal for the property said.
“We’d love nothing more than to pass the torch along.”
The brokers say the cafe will remain open in the meantime — likely right up until a new owner takes over, they hope.
“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire a landmark business in the heart of Capitol Hill, with an historic restaurant storefront on the main level and a 3br/2ba apartment above,” the real estate pitch reads. “The Volunteer Park Grocery/Cafe building has been a beloved community gathering spot for over 100 years, and this is a chance to purchase it as the ultimate live/work business proposition. Rustic charm, years of embedded history and a loft-like living retreat make this a creative dream come true.”
Not mentioned, is how the delicate nature of its presence at 17th and Galer brought some rough times for the Volunteer Park Cafe. It debuted this month 13 years ago as a collaboration between Ericka Burke and baker extraordinaire Heather Earnhardt. Before VPC, the building housed the infamously odd Cafe Europa and old timers still refer to it as Groucho’s for the old market that served the Hill in its Leave it to Beaver days.
Volunteer Park Cafe’s success and lines out the door seemed like a surprise for many neighbors. After three years of growing the business, Burke and Earnhardt found themselves facing neighborhood backlash after a neighbor’s complaint stymied their plans for a backyard patio expansion and, for a time, put the entire cafe’s existence in jeopardy over permitting problems. There were, indeed, community meetings held to discuss the cafe’s presence. It was — surprisingly — a big deal.
Burke also ran into problems in Pike/Pine in 2009 when her partnership with Linda Derschang in starting Oddfellows did not work out.
Volunteer Park Cafe, meanwhile, became a solid center for her. By 2013, the paperwork was straightened out, Earnhardt left to open the Wandering Goose, and Burke bought the old house for $680,000 from its longtime owner. Old timers, you’ll appreciate this — the company Burke used to purchase the building was called Groucho, LLC.
With creating a larger business around Volunteer Park Cafe not in the cards, Burke continued her string of ambitious new openings including the centerpiece restaurant in developer Liz Dunn’s Chophouse Row project. But Burke’s Chop Shop lasted less than a year on 11th Ave. Burke also opened a new cafe and market in the Portage Bay neighborhood in 2015. But by early 2016, a hand-written sign went up and the Canal Market was abruptly closed.
We have not heard from cafe and property owner Burke about the listing but Miller said the decision isn’t about a reemergence of some of the past issues with the cafe’s place in the middle of a single-family style home dominated neighborhood.
“Her decision to sell has nothing to do with the neighborhood,” Miller said. “She’s in good graces.”
Any prospective new owner considering the $1.7 million asking price should know it’s a package deal. The 117-year-old market turned cafe has a full-floor, three-bedroom, two-bath apartment upstairs. Downstairs, the cozy cafe and restaurant does a steady business with fresh baked house favorites and seasonal specials inspired by herbs and produce from the backyard garden.
It is also a tenuous existence. Any teardown, Miller said, would likely be the end of the property’s grandfathered commercial use.
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