It’s a blend that should work out, mixing the 15-year-old creation of a Seattle coffee veteran with the energy of two Capitol Hill entrepreneurs who have a vision for growing cafe communities and independent book retail.
Fuel Coffee and its three locations in the 19th Ave E Stevens neighborhood, Montlake, and Wallingford is becoming part of the Ada’s family of bookshops and cafes. The merger is the outgrowth of conversations that started well before the outbreak and is ready to move forward now that reopening plans are taking shape, both sides say. It’s now a vision that seems even more clear after weeks of COVID-19 restrictions with neighbors sticking mostly to their nearby streets.
“Community is even more important,” Danielle Hulton says.
The new Fuel will be a flip of how the original Ada’s was shaped on 15th Ave E. Ada’s is a community built around books — Fuel shops will be built around coffee.
Dani Cone debuted her first Fuel cafe on 19th Ave E in 2005. She remembers climbing a ladder to hang the sign out front despite being afraid of the height. And there are still a few areas up high in the 19th Ave E cafe she remembers that made her tremble in fear as she and friends reached to paint.
“When I first opened here in 2005 and I was still writing the business plan for Fuel, my business plan included having one shop and working behind the bar,” Cone said.
Now, with some 30 years in Seattle coffee after her start at Caffe Vita long ago, Cone is handing her own small chain of coffee joints to new owners.
Change will begin in June. Danielle Hulton and husband and business partner David Hulton are planning to overhaul the Fuel spaces with room for the other key component of the Ada’s recipe — books — and, probably, some fresh paint.
Ada’s arrived on 15th Ave E in fall 2013 after the Hultons made a big leap and bought the dilapidated old home of Horizon Books to refurbish, enhance, and overhaul into a new chapter for a “technical” book shop. In the fall of 2014, they opened coworking space The Office in the upstairs of the addition.
Board and Vellum designed both the coworking space and the bookstore, creating clean, bright, open designs. The shop and cafe drew inspiration from Ada Lovelace, while The Office channeled British computing pioneer Alan Turing for its spirit. They later added event space and cocktail bar The Lab to the 15th Ave E complex.
In 2018, the Hultons built on their cafe and coffee program with one of the more unexpected link-ups in Capitol Hill food+drink history. The Lounge by AT&T and Ada’s Discovery Cafe opened in 2018 on E Thomas project just off Broadway in the newly constructed Vertex Apartments. Ada’s Discovery is part neighborhood coffee shop, part AT&T sales and marketing. It’s the kind of place that transforms into a marketing stunt for a few months but keeps serving hand-crafted espresso drinks.
Danielle says it also has helped them hone their experience in both coffee and retail while dabbling with a big brand superpower. “Ada’s Discovery give us that knowledge and the chops,” Danielle said.
Fuel founder Cone will still have plenty to keep her busy. She started Capitol Hill-style general store Cone & Steiner on 19th Ave E in early 2014 and has grown the small chain to three locations. Cone says she has been having similar conversations to the early talks around Fuel and Ada’s at Cone & Steiner. “All of us have to look at how we do business and we’re all faced with rebuilding,” Cone said. “Now, everybody has to be better.”
To get started in June, Fuel cafes will transition during the overhauls to walk-up service as new designs from Board and Vellum transform the interiors. On the other side, the new Fuels will emerge refreshed and part of the Ada’s family, a Capitol Hill company that will probably be about 40 workers strong by then.
David Hulton says the COVID-19 crisis has shaped their planning. “We’re making sure that the people we hire back want to come back and their jobs are sustainable,” he said.
“Businesses can still be successful in this climate,” Danielle says. “How do we do this in a way to set up everybody for success?”
You can learn more and keep track of progress at adasbooks.com.
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