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King of Capitol Hill’s coffee culture, Caffe Vita is in new hands

There were signs something new was coming. In the last days of 2019, a Seattle real estate investment company purchased the E Pike building home to the headquarters and roasting facility of Caffe Vita from Vita owner Mike McConnell for $5 million and also rolled out a new 10-year lease for a new Vita entity incorporated last August with ownership that only listed a lawyer and a law firm.

Seattle Met has the scoop. Caffe Vita has a new owner:

On January 1, Deming Maclise officially took over Vita’s 10 shops (spread across Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn), three roasting facilities, and a network of hundreds of wholesale customers in all 50 states, not to mention a critical mass of Seattle bars and restaurants.

Maclise already had a stake in Vita, but he’s likely also a familiar name for anyone who has dined in (or simply ogled the decor at) places like Bastille, Poquitos, Stoneburner, and Rhein Haus.

The change ends McConnell’s run with the company whose beans have been ubiquitous across the city and whose cafes many credit with leading the way in Seattle coffee culture. It also marks a step away from Capitol Hill for the prolific food and drink investor who has also started or backed neighborhood favorites including Via Tribunali, Big Mario’s, and The Wandering Goose.

Now marking 25 years of coffee in the city, Vita’s origins can be traced back to a pre-boom Pike/Pine. While Vita was founded in 1995 on Queen Anne, Cafe Paradiso laid the groundwork on E Pike. “The Café Paradiso had a splendid 8 year run,” founder and property owner Anne Michelson told CHS in 2014. “I had gone out on a limb to buy the building at 1005 East Pike in 1989 for my clothing company, Crescent Down Works and then my Japanese market slumped in 1990 so I had to think of some way to earn a living and I had always admired the old coffee houses of the U District in the early 60’s like the Pamir House and the Eigerwand.”

“My clothing business started picking up later in the 90’s and I was approached by Mike McConnell to buy me out so I did.”

McConnell eventually bought the building his cafe called home from Michelson in 2006 for $1.9 million, according to county records. And the rest is Seattle coffee history.

In 2014, we attempted to speak with McConnell about the start of Vita, his work to pioneer and champion of direct-trade coffee and the growth through the years that has added locations across Seattle and in Manhattan and LA. A vita representative explained to CHS that McConnell prefers not to do interviews. We did find his voice appearing here and there in write-ups on Vita through the years. “In the 80’s we used to save up our money and go drink espresso at the Nordstrom Coffee Bar,” McConnel said in a Virgin Airlines blog post. “A bunch of ragged teenagers with unintentionally ripped jeans sampling Italian coffees in a high end department store.”

While those 25 years at Vita were mostly successful, 2019 found the company dealing with blowback after firings and an employee walkout in a dispute over homelessness and handing out free coffee and food at the E Pike cafe. Vita apologized and said it was assessing its policies and communications “to ensure they reflect our company’s values and our community’s need.”

New Vita owner Deming Maclise, meanwhile, now owns a leading Seattle coffee brand and has a new 10-year lease on E Pike to add to his existing strong presence in the neighborhood where he opened Poquitos and Rhein Haus.


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6 thoughts on “King of Capitol Hill’s coffee culture, Caffe Vita is in new hands

  1. If the employees give away company property for free, will they get fired again?

    It looks like the McConnells got fed up with “don’t think about it, just be woke!” culture of Seattle and upped stakes.

    Maybe the new owners know how to walk the tightrope between actually running a company that keeps the customers happy, its employees working, and the internet umbrage of keyboard warriors at bay.

  2. I know the new owner. He genuinely cares about his employees & customers. He knows how to run a business in such a way that people want to keep coming back.
    He also cares enough to use & serve the best coffee beans money can buy. He knows the coffee business, and I have a great deal of respect for him as a person & business owner. Look for good things to happen at Vita.

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