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Chaco Canyon Organic Café

A new Chaco location is coming

Fifteen years ago, Chris Maykut opened the first Chaco Canyon Organic Café, located in the U District. West Seattle followed, then Greenwood. Now Queen Anne should see a café open, most likely in January. All good, but there have been some changes over the past two years.

Majority owner Mohammed Yousef

Operating these cafes is a challenging proposition. The great part is that they still cater to people on raw or vegan diets and those choosing local and organic, gluten- and soy-free foods. They make everything by hand (at the Greenwood centralized kitchen), from their chai to their daily soups and salad dressings. Great and yet difficult. Labor is 60% of their costs. So although they have good revenue and a loyal following, it's tough to turn a profit. "I fell into that entrepreneurial trap where you think if you're doing well with one location, multiples would be even better," says Chris. "Three or four years ago, I was told I needed to hire an operations manager to control things. We didn't have that kind of money. My management style tends to be very laid back, talking everything through, and putting myself last. Two years ago, I hit the end of my rope; completely stressed all the time." He decided it was best to bring in new blood and found a family who wanted the University location. A second buyer, Mohamed Yousef, purchased the West Seattle and Greenwood locations. Mohamed was educated in Germany, has a law degree, worked in a number of restaurants and was the operations manager for a number of years at Ivar's. He and his wife live in Maple Valley. Chris retains a minor amount of ownership with Mohamed and is still highly involved in the cafe. "Mohamed has streamlined things to make everything more efficient, and reduced waste, all without changing or compromising the quality or integrity of the food," says Chris. "He was profitable within three months."

In the beginning, the three locations operated like a franchise, and food was purchased from the Greenwood location. Lois Rivera, the head chef for Chaco, decided to quit cooking and go to the U District location as GM. After a few months, the U District owners decided they didn't want to be Chaco Canyon anymore and changed their name to Broadfork Café, retaining many of the dishes and staying true to the original concept. They have since opened a second Broadfork in Uptown. They have no connection to Chaco Canyon.

Vegan banh mi sandwich

No longer producing food for three locations, Mohamed felt he was losing his economy of scale. That's when he decided to find a good spot to open a third Chaco. Looking for a neighborhood with a lot of foot traffic, families, and people who would walk to the restaurant, he settled on upper Queen Anne, taking over the former LloydMartin restaurant location. "Mohamed was checking out the spot on a Tuesday around 11 a.m. and there were tons of people out walking, including a lot of mothers with kids. We know we'll do well here," says Chris.

All the things people love about Chaco will happen at the new Queen Anne location as well. "The menu will be the same and we'll continue to innovate with seasonal specials on drinks, salads, and soups, as well as desserts. People will still get pumpkin soup in the winter and blueberry muffins in summer. Our chef, Careth Davis, has been with us about a year-and-a-half and is the one creating new recipes. There are about 30 seats and a kids' play area, with seating at a counter along the window. We've taken out the wine cabinet on the north side and moved seating back against that wall.

"Mohamed is what Chaco needed. He hasn't changed one thing about how we source ingredients or make dishes. It's amazing that in this changing restaurant environment, he's been able to take such a labor-intensive place and make it efficient. He works so hard and you'll find him behind the counter. He's the one talking with people and calling out 'Thanks for coming in,' as they leave. He cares so much."

Here's to the next 15 years for Chaco Canyon.

Connie Adams/December 2018

Chaco Canyon Organic Café

West Seattle
3770 SW Alaska St
Seattle, WA 98126

8404 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103

Queen Anne
1525 Queen Anne Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

Tofu scramble with avocado

Photos courtesy of Chaco Canyon

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