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Once an Ethiopian bakery, 19th Ave’s Good Neighbor Cafe hopes to stay a welcoming part of the Central District community

With reporting by Stevie Riepe, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

Sharon Healey, the new owner of the Good Neighbor Cafe, said she wanted to create a welcoming environment where anyone could come and feel safe.

“We wanted our business to be recognized as a place that was friendly towards all people,” Healey said. “We wanted people who came by to feel like ‘I am welcome,’ or ‘I can come in here and be safe.’”

Healey bought the cafe because she was hoping to have an outlet to help her escape from the frustration she feels in her work as an immigration attorney.

“Right now being an immigration attorney is a bit depressing,” said Healey.

With the current political climate, Healey said it was hard right now and that she was tired of always feeling frustrated. With so little she could do for her clients, she said she needed to get away from the office.

Healey and her daughter started searching for small restaurants or cafes to buy. They looked at several establishments but kept coming back to Good Neighbor Cafe. They liked the neighborhood and felt their creativity could blossom.

“We looked at several and we just kept coming back to this one,” Healey said.

The purchase also helped neighborhood business owner Asfaha Lemlem. He opened Good Neighbor in 2018 but told CHS that the business had struggled with the changing demographics of the neighborhood.

“Most of our menu is Ethiopian or it at least has Ethiopian flavor. Whether it’s our chicken sandwich or spaghetti, everything has Ethiopian spice,” Lemlem told CHS last summer.

Before Good Neighbor, Lemlem’s Ethiopian bakery operated in the building. According to Lemlem, most of the bakery’s clientele were Ethiopian people residing in the surrounding neighborhood. The bakery’s business suffered as gentrification and economic displacement caused regular patrons to leave. With five years left on the space’s lease, Lemlem converted the bakery into an Ethiopian-inspired cafe, trying to accommodate new and longtime residents.

Now Good Neighbor is in Healey’s hands. Meanwhile, Lemlem continues to operate a grocery up the street.

Good Neighbor has grown into new ways to help the community. A majority of Healey’s immigration clients are impoverished Guatemalans seeking asylum in the U.S. after escaping persecution. She sought ways that she could help even while not working as an attorney.

The cafe is partnered with Madsen Cacao, a producer of cacao tea bags with products that come from Guatemala. The proceeds that Healey raises from selling tea goes to support schooling for Guatemalan children.

Jefferson Madsen, who co-owns Madsen Cacao, said that the proceeds raised have helped provide scholarships for five children just this last year.

To make the cafe one more welcoming, Healey also began by incorporating her family’s love of books. There is a collage of books tacked to a wall. Antique books are packed on a table near the fireplace. The menu items are all named after famous authors. You can get the Ernest Hemingway or A.A. Milne breakfast bagels. Order something sweet with the Maya Angelo or savory with Robert Frost if you desire a crepe. They have sandwiches named Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain.

The cafe is family-run with members contributing to the business. Healey is the owner and will do a variety of jobs when she isn’t consumed with her legal practice. Her son contributes art to the shop and Healey’s husband helps in anyway he can, she says.

Healy’s daughter Catherine Scully handles the finances around inventory and payroll while her daughter’s husband Javier Regalado runs the day-to-day operations of the shop. The two are also busy with their two-week-old newborn.

Healey said the cafe has provided a way for her to give back to both Seattle and Guatemala with her family and their love of books.

“We hope that people come in and we hope that they feel like it’s cozy. That they can get something that’s made fresh and they don’t feel rushed,” Healey said. “The soup is homemade. Have some nice warm soup and stick around for a while.”

The Good Neighbor Cafe is located at 166 19th Ave. You can learn more at facebook.com/goodneighboreats.

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3 thoughts on “Once an Ethiopian bakery, 19th Ave’s Good Neighbor Cafe hopes to stay a welcoming part of the Central District community

  1. So let me get this straight. Woke white person displaces black-owned business in traditionally black neighborhood, then serves a bagel named after an infamous anti-Semite. My head is spinning.

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