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Fuel to join Ada’s family, adding books to blend of coffee, community

(Image: Fuel Coffee)

(Image: Fuel Coffee)

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.

Ada's

Ada’s debuted in 2013 on 15th Ave E

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.

Dani Cone

Cone in 2015 on Fuel’s 10th anniversary

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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10 thoughts on “Fuel to join Ada’s family, adding books to blend of coffee, community

  1. Perhaps invest so money in fuel ? Chairs are worn, feels like it’s been slowly closing down for a while down in montlake…

    I wonder about the economics o coffee in the post pandemic world. If it’s all take out I might as well avoid the line and make my own.

    • News of how life will be so different “post pandemic ” generate clicks and advertising revenue, but don’t believe most of the hype.

      Yes, it may accelerate some shifts already underway (death of malls, teleworking) but won’t change the fabric of society.

      Remember the Spanish Flu. That was a real pandemic that killed the young and healthy out of the blue, and yet a few years later it was the Roaring 20s with wild parties.

      Coffee shops have been a part of western culture for centuries. I have zero doubt that in a short time (relatively) speaking they will be as popular as they were 6 months ago.

  2. What an exciting merger!

    A few corrections: the “original Ada’s” was actually over at Broadway and Roy Street, in the Loveless Building. And it opened in 2010 before moving to its current location on 15th Avenue in 2013.

    We’re so lucky to have had this amazing business in our community for the past decade!

  3. As a longtime patron of Fuel, I will be reluctant to continue to be as frequent a customer given this change, due to the business relationship with AT&T (with their shop at Harvard and Thomas), one of the biggest corporate donors to anti-LGBT politicians nationwide.

    • As a queer employee of Ada’s (speaking on my own, not representing them) I’d beg you to reconsider. Ada’s is by far the most LGBTQ+ friendly place I’ve ever worked and I would not be at the place I am in my identity without my boss and coworkers’ unwavering support and acceptance.

    • I love Fuel on 19th too, and I’m glad you mentioned this. That shop has always employed a good number of vulnerable LGBTQ+ youth, politically sharp and mutually supportive. Of course AT&T, like Ada’s, treats their own LGBTQ+ employees fairly and well, but AT&T refuses to stop contributing large amounts to politicians who would see those employees and their families robbed of protections.

      As a result, AT&T employees have to weigh their own job security against the vulnerability of their least secure community members. It can’t be easy. I’m sure it must have been difficult, too, for the operators of Ada’s to decide their best business move was to partner with AT&T anyway.

      If the queer youth among Fuel employees can’t stomach that I hope they quickly find jobs that don’t come with that challenge.

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