Karen Staniford, founder of the famous Vintage Cafe, dies at 79

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EVERETT – It was called The Alley and then Aaron’s before the name was changed to Vintage Cafe in 2002.

But since the restaurant was founded 46 years ago, it has never changed hands. Same family. Three generations.

Karen Staniford, the cafe’s founder, died in august 31. She was 79 years old. The family did not respond to interview requests and the cause of death was not released.

The Vintage Cafe, the historic Everett restaurant and bar she founded, still lives on.

Staniford was a single mother with a teenage daughter in 1976 when she took out a $16,000 bank loan. It was like a fortune.

“It was like the national debt to me,” Staniford told the Daily Herald in 2016.

The space, which Staniford rented in the Hove Building at 1510 Hewitt Ave., had been a tavern called The Cave since the end of Prohibition.

She called her establishment The Alley and decorated the brick walls with photographs of Everett as a thriving industrial city.

“There was an opening in the alley. In those days, you couldn’t have a front door leading directly into a lounge bar. We had to create some sort of corridor,” Staniford said in 2016.

When the doors opened, Staniford’s 14-year-old daughter, Lorrie Bunney, was there to serve the tables.

Staniford would eventually teach Bunney how to cook, run the bar, and run the restaurant.

Staniford, a 1960 graduate of Everett High School, was born Karen Cathleen Brown on September 27, 1942, in Little Falls, Minnesota. She grew up in Everett.

Before opening his own restaurant, Staniford was a bartender at Pardee’s in Everett. Owner Bill Pardee was so impressed with her ‘courage and skill’ that he promoted her to management and gave her the title ‘best bartender in all of Everett’, the family wrote in a Herald obituary. .

“Karen was fiery and independent, a force to be reckoned with when she was focused on anything,” her family wrote.

“That something would turn out to be opening their own restaurant and bar,” the family said.

In the 1970s, she was a pioneer in this regard: “It was a time when women were supposed to occupy themselves without owning them”, writes the family. “She fought to get her own liquor license and a business loan.”

Staniford was reportedly one of the first women in Everett to obtain a liquor license.

Bunney credits Howard Bargreen, the third-generation owner of Bargreen’s Coffee Co., with helping “my mom get her license,” she told the Herald in 2019.

“We haven’t had any coffee other than Bargreen’s since then,” Bunney said.

Managing a restaurant is not child’s play.

“It’s probably the hardest business there is. Anyone in the restaurant business can tell you that,” Staniford told the Herald in 2016.

A ‘Here we go again’ sign is seen at the Vintage Cafe on Dec. 4, 2020 in Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

His words ring true. Most independent restaurants close within 12 months of opening. Those that stay last an average of five years, according to a 2019 study by Restaurant Broker.

From the 1970s to the present, Staniford has seen the city undergo a roller coaster ride of change.

“Back then, in 1976, downtown was still downtown,” Staniford said.

Shoppers had a choice of department stores: Le Bon Marché, JC Penney and other retailers.

“It was a very dynamic neighborhood. Five years later, not so much. Everyone went to the mall,” Staniford said in 2016.

“The city is kind of dead. Everyone left around 1984,” Bunney said.

Lunch and dinner crowds dwindled.

Time for a remake.

In 1983 Staniford married Jim Staniford and asked for his help in revamping the restaurant.

Married for 39 years, “they were the perfect couple” as Karen oversaw day-to-day operations and Jim handled all maintenance and renovations over the years, the family said.

The Alley became Aaron’s, a nightclub with pool tables and live music.

In 2000, the Stanifords and Bunneys purchased the building. The historic structure was designed and built by architect Charles Hove in 1893, the same year the city of Everett incorporated.

They credit the restaurant’s longevity to loyal customers and a willingness, Jim Staniford said, “to go with the flow”.

The Stanifords opened four businesses together: Amber’s Cafe North in 1988; Silverlake Cafe in 1991; Trendy’s Cafe by the Bay in 1995 and the Grand Leader Mercantile at 1502 Hewitt Ave. in 2018.

Meanwhile, downtown Everett has undergone another transformation. The Everett Events Center, now Angel of the Winds Arena, opened in 2003. That same year, the Everett Silvertips Hockey Club skated into town.

Anticipating developments in the city, Staniford and Bunney closed Aaron’s in 2002. A few months later, it reopened as Vintage Cafe, a family restaurant focused on food and cocktails.

“Now it’s just family cooking at home,” Bunney told the Herald in 2019.

In 2019, Staniford’s daughter Bunney handed over the keys to her daughter Amber Lang, who had worked at the restaurant since she was a teenager.

Staniford is predeceased by her father Otto Brown and her mother Christina Brown. She is survived by her husband James Staniford; his daughter Lorrie Bunnie; granddaughter Amber Lang (Brian); and great-grandsons Hayden, Hunter, Greysen and Griffen Lang.

“Karen did not want a funeral or service,” the family said. Instead, she hoped “everyone would keep visiting the businesses she loved so much.”

Janice Podsada: 425 339-3097; [email protected]; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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