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Café Pettirosso

Old- and new-school Capitol Hill

As the second oldest coffee shop on Capitol Hill, (Vivace is the oldest, circa 1988) what's the path to maintaining the feel of the old neighborhood, yet pleasing the newcomers? Seasonally-changing bakery, cocktail, dinner, and wine programs? Yes, that just might work…

Started as a coffee cart by Robin Wright in 1994, the cart eventually moved into the current Pettirosso location on E. Pike Street. Miki Sodos worked next door at Aria salon, and she told her sister Yuki about a "for hire" sign in the window. Yuki worked at the coffee shop off and on for 10 years, breaking to spend four years in Albuquerque with Miki to take care of family. Before New Mexico and after graduating from the UW, Yuki wanted to go to Japan to teach English, and volunteered at the Asian Art Museum. Miki had worked in food service since she was 16, majored in political science, and worked in social services. She was headed to law school, thinking about a paralegal program. When they returned, their attitudes had changed.

"There were a lot of deaths around us during that time, and everything was altered. You look differently at life," says Miki. "Yuki found out about a business that had failed in Belltown and been empty for a year. For an amazing price, we got the space, refrigeration, pots and pans, so much. We put a lot of sweat equity into it for a month while still working our other jobs." They opened Bang Bang Café in 2009. Through neighborhood changes, Bang Bang is still there, shipping red and green chilies in to cook their New Mexican food. They also offer baked goods and coffee.

Photo: Brioche French toast

A few years later, Robin decided to retire. "The building owner had space that was used for storage. As costs increased, she wanted that space to be used to create income. She was pushing Robin to expand into that area, and Robin didn't want to. Robin had talked with us before about "someday;" now it was here. We took it over in 2011, knowing we would be expanding. We added a larger dining room and a kitchen."

Maintaining has not been an easy task. "There were three major construction projects; plywood in front of the café and a big trench, no lighting on the street," recalls Miki. "But we're still here and finally to a point where we have a professional management team. We know it's too big for just the two of us."

They're sticking to their base concept: providing for both the old and new Capitol Hill residents with a price point that allows people to come several times a week and maintaining the character of the space. Concrete floor, brick wall painted white. Artwork changes monthly; several employees are artists and their work is rotated as well. Mondays feature special events, like a DJ or drag comedy show. "Mondays are also good industry nights," says Miki. Call ahead, if there's no event that evening, they close at 3 p.m.

They offer grass fed beef and organic ingredients as much as possible. "We have a vegan focus. I respect the movement because it's about ethics vs. dietary choices. Yuki's husband is vegan, and we know it's hard to find a place where everyone can find something they want. We have some naturally gluten-free items, although we don't focus on that. We used to make both milk and dark chocolate truffles, but the dark chocolate, which are vegan, were the big sellers, so we stopped making the milk chocolate." Their chef changes the menu seasonally which is European bistro-ish. Almost everything is made in-house, including their jam. Pastry Chef Eric Todd has been an employee from day one; he was formerly at B & O Espresso.

Photo: Wine and puttanesca roasted chicken

Jamey Lionhart has signed on as GM (beverage program, events, GM for Black Bottle), and it was his idea to expand the wine program. "I designed the list to be unfussy," he explains. "We have nice bottles for a special night, and more affordable bottles for every day. The list is equal parts local and imported; approachable, recognizable. In February, we had a wine event featuring Forgeron and Mark Ryan wines, and we hope to have an event each quarter." Their bartender creates new signature drinks each quarter, and beer offerings also change quarterly.

"We have several James Beard winners within walking distance, so there's no shortage of good food in the area. We want to offer something different than they do," says Miki. Their bakery is part of that difference. With a full bakery upstairs, they make their breads, pastries, cakes. They're also thinking about holding baking classes there. "We do standard cakes in under 48 hours and do special order and wedding cakes."

Mini red velvet cake

Miki summarizes, "We want to provide great customer service in a wonderful environment. For us, it's about craftsmanship; putting care and craft into everything we do. We don't want to be corporate or homogenized. There's a lot going on under one roof and we want to keep it as local as possible."

Café Pettirosso
1101 E. Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98122
206-324-2233

www.pettirossoseattle.com

Bang Bang Café
2460 Western Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
206-448-2233

Photos by Yvonne Chan

Connie Adams/March 2018


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