At the height of spring COVID-19 uncertainty, one thing was certain for coffee connoisseur Geetu Vailoor: she was about to become the owner of a specialty coffee shop.
“I know the narrative around the Central District is that it has been quite gentrified, and when I think about speciality coffee and coffee shops in general they tend to be a sign of gentrification,” Vailoor said. “I’d like to curb that narrative and rewrite that because I think that coffee is for everyone.”
Four-year-old Union Coffee, located just a block east of 23rd and Union, has a new owner — and also a new outdoor patio to add to its takeout offerings along with wine bottleservice added to the coffee and pastry menu. You can add the new mission to the list.
Vailoor took over the business just a few days after state coronavirus restrictions barred in-store seating at the end of March. She initially got in touch with Union Coffee’s founder Zack Reinig, spouse of Molly Moon Neitzel of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, during her days as a wholesale manager at Boon Boona Coffee in Renton. After learning he was looking to sell Union Coffee, Vailoor decided to take her years of coffee experience to the next level as the business’s new owner.
“I was in the middle of a lot of transitions in my own career and personal life and the last thing I thought about was purchasing a business and starting this new big project,” she said. “But the more I thought about it, I realized that it was just a really awesome opportunity to kind of have my own space and my own voice.”
After a quick turnover, Vailoor stepped into the position to find business was slow at first, averaging 15 customers per day, before picking up significantly.
“I think with the warmer weather and also people finding ways to adapt to this new way of life, people are starting to get a little more comfortable,” she said.
Union Coffee is also part of a cluster of cafe and coffee options in the area. Longtime fixture Cortona is down the street, Lowrider Baking Co. moved onto the block in 2019, and Squirrel Chops opened on the other side of 23rd and Union in 2016. The neighborhood’s Raised Doughnuts, meanwhile, announced it will move into a new shop at 24th and Union late next year in the new construction at the Midtown Square development.
Although Vailoor has had to pivot away from original intentions of opening a wine bar in the space and hosting events, she says a sense of community has been palpable as customers pick up their orders.
“Even standing in the space for five minutes, ten minutes waiting on your cup of coffee, you can feel that warmth and that energy,” she said.
Union Coffee is open daily from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM at 2407 E Union. You can learn more at unioncoffeeseattle.com.
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