by Amanda Ong
After nearly seven months of in-person closure, Cafe Red in Othello reopened for service in April. The return of the beloved neighborhood cafe comes with a new all-vegan menu, plenty of produce from local businesses, and a renewed commitment to the community.
More than anything, co-owners Jesiah Wurtz and Haley Williams hope that through their thoughtful space, food and events, they can provide the community with a place of love, safety and authenticity.
“We all just need a little grace, and so love is really important to me to be able to create a space where anyone can walk through the doors and feel like they belong, where you just have the feel like you can show up and just be yourself fully, authentically,” Wurtz said. “And I think historically there hasn’t been a ton of those spaces.”
It’s been a long pandemic road for the all-vegan cafe that started as a bike cafe pop-up in 2015. In March 2020, they closed the cafe due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Then they reopened from August 2020 to August 2021, then closed until reopening in April.
For Williams and Wurtz, veganism is a critical aspect of the cafe’s ability to serve the South Seattle community. “People talk a lot about how south Seattle is a food desert,” Wurtz said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “If people are looking for plant-based options, [they’re] quite few and far between. Some people care about the welfare and suffering of animals. Other people care about the environmental impact of their decisions. Other people need to take care of their health… But one of the biggest hurdles is accessibility, so we just wanted to make it easy for people to make that decision.
“When we started, we actually opened up the vegetarian,” Williams said. “But we’re both vegan, and [the pandemic] gave us a chance to shut down and rethink why not just be all vegan? If we fail at veganism, our own values, why not incorporate [veganism] in real coffee? »
“I think it’s always been wrong to offer things on the menu that we wouldn’t even eat ourselves,” Wurtz said..
Wurtz and Williams are both particularly excited about some of their new menu offerings and their partnerships with other restaurants and vegan food manufacturers. They work with No Bones Beach Club, a women-owned vegan business that had restaurants in Ballard and Portland but has since closed due to the pandemic and operates from a wholesale model. Cafe Red will be giving away its artichoke blossoms and cauliflower wings, and hopes former Ballard fans from the No Bones Beach Club will come and try them.
They’re also partnering with another woman-owned vegan business called Snacktivist Foods, which specializes in gluten-free baking mixes. They use their ingredients to introduce new baked goods to their menus, including chocolate chip cookies and soon, brownies.
“Hopefully next month we’ll have that, but I grew up in Ohio in a little bakery there,” Wurtz said. “Before I was 10, I have a lot of memories of it. And we are working on veganizing these recipes.
Their sandwiches and mac and cheese use tofu from ChuMinh Tofu, which is known for its community service work and whose tofu factory is down the street from Cafe Red. Their bread comes from Moon Village Bakery in Skyway, which Wurtz says is run by a young family from south Seattle.
“[Moon Village Bakery] has some really amazing new special recipes for breakfast breads,” Wurtz said. “They call them moon muffins. It is basically a variation of English muffins. They’re a bit bigger and denser than English muffins, and it’s just a really special recipe they made for us.
They also work with Apple Guy, who in turn works with farms in eastern Washington to get apples directly to people and bypass distribution middlemen, so farmers can get better prices.
Wurtz is particularly enthusiastic about supporting Fulcrum Coffee, which has been run by Blas Alfaro from its SoDo roastery.
“Fulcrum Coffee is run by a fifth-generation, queer, Costa Rican coffee producer, [whose family has] coffee grown since the early 1800s,” Wertz said. “And they literally grew up picking coffee as kids on a coffee farm. [Fulcrum] truly has such a deep heart for the coffee grower experience, understands their struggle and is so committed to finding ways to support them… he truly does more than any other roaster in Seattle to truly support communities [Alfaro] sources of coffee.
Before the pandemic, Cafe Red held several events a week prioritizing artists from south Seattle, and Wurtz and Williams are particularly concerned about housing issues and sweeps in the area. Former South Seattle-based artists have included Ready Ron Beats, Essam, Esai and Planet 39. They have also hosted national artists, such as Carnage the Executioner.
“That’s what people in South Seattle are doing, what’s up,” Wurtz said. “It’s kind of what we see as space. We want it to be a stepping stone where people can come in and be themselves and do their thing and use it as a stepping stone to where they’re going next.
Cafe Red does not plan to hold as many events per week as before the pandemic, but hopes to start hosting open mics soon. A reopening party on May 20 brought together artists from Ready Ron’s Takeover Music Collective and Shubzilla/Bill Beats’ Noir Grime label, and free vegan donuts from Dough Joy were available for the first 125 attendees.
Visit Cafe Red at 7148 MLK Jr. Blvd S. The cafe is open for dinner and patio Tuesday through Sunday. From Tuesday to Friday, they are open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, they are open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can also order ahead or pick up on the Joe app.
Amanda Ong (she) is a Chinese-American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate in the University of Washington’s Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in Creative Writing and Ethnic and Racial Studies.
📸 Featured Image: Beloved neighborhood cafe Cafe Red has emerged from the pandemic with an all-vegan menu and a greater commitment to the community. (Photo: Marcus Harrison Green)
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