Cafe Avole is hard at work building out their second location in the Liberty Bank Building, joining other Black-owned businesses like Earl’s Cuts and Communion in development around 23rd and Union.
Ethiopian-owned, Cafe Avole sources, roasts, and sells high-grade coffees from Yirga Ch’Efe and Guji. Cafe Avole launched their flagship store in 2016 at the corner of Rainier Ave S and S Holly in Seattle’s Brighton neighborhood. The cafe offers Ethiopian food, community pop-ups, and, in pre-pandemic times, jebena, a central part of the coffee ceremony for Ethiopian and Eritrean households. The second location in the Liberty Bank Building is slated to open in May or June, depending on the progress of the buildout.
“We started our initial conversation [with the Liberty Bank Building] in 2018, right before the building was complete,” said Solomon Dubie, co-owner of Cafe Avole along with Gavin Amos and Getachew Enbiale. “We were supposed to try to get in there shortly thereafter, but things got held up, and then COVID hit. It was postponed for a little while.”
Located on E Union and 24th Ave E, the Liberty Bank Building is a mixed-use development that opened in the Central District in 2019 with affordable apartments and retail spaces for lease. Named after the area’s first Black-owned bank founded in 1968, the Liberty Bank Building seeks to preserve and grow a historically Black neighborhood in a rapidly-gentrifying area of Seattle.
The Liberty Bank location is smaller than the flagship store, and the emphasis will be on coffee, less on food, although Dubie said they’ll still offer some pastries and baked goods with Golden Wheat Bakery and other local companies.
Ethiopia has some of the most sought-after single origin coffees, known for their bold berry and fruit tasting notes. When it’s safe to do so, Dubie plans on offering jebena at the second location as well. Jebena is a traditional pot for brewing coffee, typically made of clay with long necks and pouring spouts, passed down from generation to generation. Coffee is brewed in jebenas, then poured into small cups. The first cup is called the Avole. Dubie explained Cafe Avole’s take on Ethiopian coffee ceremony has an Afrofuturist sensibility, infusing the Seattle coffee scene with a tradition from the birthplace of coffee itself. It’s something that sets them apart from the two other cafes in the area, Squirrel Chops and Union Coffee.
Those caffeinated traditions are finally becoming part of the cafe scene around Capitol Hill and the Central District. CHS reported previously on the arrival of Boon Boona at 12th and Cherry. “Boon Boona is how we say coffee,” owner Efrem Fesaha tells CHS. “But I focused on the East African community first, then coffee and an experience that is more culturally aware.”
Meanwhile, another new purveyor of international coffee flavors is opening on Broadway where Kitanda features Brazilian lattes and Pão de Queijo.
At Cafe Avole, Ethiopian coffee ceremony, or buna, is an intimate part of family life, not something you’d go elsewhere to order. “I’ve imagined this Afrofuturism perspective of our culture. We’re going to introduce the jebena in different ways,” Dubie said. Cafe Avole’s jebena reclaims Ethiopian heritage in a specialty coffee world that, at least in the U.S., is pretty removed from knowledge of coffee-producing lands. “The concept changed, now I’m giving the jebena to the customer. We’ll brew the jebena, but we’ll bring the jebena to your table and you can experience it with your friends and the people around you,” he said.
Cafe Avole will continue to develop what Dubie calls their arts and culture department in the new location, cultivating creativity among staff, community, and other like-minded BIPOC-owned businesses. In the past, they collaborated with clothing store and creative agency Paradice Avenue Souf on block parties and art parties, and recently on a limited edition Yirgacheffe coffee, with artwork by Ari Glass.
Now Cafe Avole is working with eTc Tacoma, a clothing and lifestyle brand. “We’re hoping to have apparel that’s going to make sense, and not just us putting a name on a shirt and saying ‘We’re this.’” Dubie said. “I feel like every single bag that we come out with should be with the collaboration of an artist.”
The fact that Cafe Avole is opening a location in the Liberty Bank Building is already an artistic collaboration of sorts. “You’ve got this energy that’s building right there on the corner where we’re at,” Dubie said. “We’re excited.”
As the Liberty Bank Building reclaims some of the neighborhood for Black residents, the presence of Cafe Avole reclaims a little more of the Seattle coffee scene for the lands and people who produce it.
Cafe Avole will open in the Liberty Bank Building later this year at 2320 E Union. You can learn more at avolecoffee.com.
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