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A visit to the new Volunteer Park Cafe, carrying on the tradition of ‘a cozy corner spot’ on Capitol Hill

You might think, with Canlis alums and a Yakima winery owner as the new creative forces behind the neighborhood favorite, the new Volunteer Park Cafe would have three-star, four-course ambitions.

It’s a much softer affair.

“I’m just hanging out, doing my thing, trying to make a beautiful space for people,” Melissa Johnson tells CHS about the cafe that has reopened under new ownership and with an overhaul of the 1904-built cornershop house at 17th and Galer.

Baker Johnson and pastry chef Crystal Chiu have teamed up to create a new vision of the neighborhood cafe — “a fresh start,” Johnson says, “bountiful, and bright, and ever-changing.”

James DeSarno, principal at D3 Architects and co-owner of the Freehand Cellars winery, purchased the 1904-built, two-story market and apartment in a $1.4 million deal that was in the works for months after a previous plan to purchase the property fell through. DeSarno said his plan for VPC was to try to keep a good deal of the relationship with the neighborhood in place with cafe and coffee offerings but add a renewed focus on wine featuring his Yakima Valley winery’s creations.

But that doesn’t mean the pear cardamon muffins are gone. The new cafe is daytime focused, open Wednesdays through Sundays from 8 AM to 7 PM, without aspirations of reigniting the former VPC efforts to build a fine dining reputation at night. Instead those bottles of wine are joined by a busy coffee bar and accompanied by a menu of open faced toasts and sandwiches and seasonal salads that rises after the morning rush on the breakfast sandwich and the chock full pastry case.


The new Volunteer Park Cafe’s cookies are also reportedly fantastic, with or without a glass of wine, and part of Chiu’s diet-ruining afternoon dessert creations including the likes of “vegan coconut hazelnut cake, as well as a hawaij-flavored snickerdoodle, cocoa nib brown butter meringue, strawberry rhubarb galette, and chocolate babka.”

Along with overhauling the small kitchen and counter area, indoor seating has been reduced with the big communal table space making way for a selection of goods and sundries. New garden patio tables are available to join the sidewalk cafe space for outdoor seating.

It is not fine dining, per se, but the new creations at Volunteer Park Cafe attest to a quiet kind of energy.

“We hope to just bring joy and be a place where people are excited to spend time at,” Johnson said. “Just carry on the tradition of being a cozy corner spot in the neighborhood.”

Volunteer Park Cafe is located at 1501 17th Ave E. Learn more at

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Xtian Gunther
4 months ago

Best of luck to you! Will be by to check it all out soon.

John M Feit
John M Feit
4 months ago

More good news on the local cafe front – best of luck and we can’t wait to stop in.

4 months ago

So happy you are back!!! Love this place!

4 months ago

So excited to go check it out.. and glad they got rid of that big center table. I always loved the communal atmosphere was going for, but the table contributed to the space feeling so cramped even when there weren’t that many people there. Here’s to new beginnings!