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A White Center Cafe's Tension to Remain Competitive in a Changing Community

How can the area stay viable while protecting its identity?

Caffe Delia's Delia MacFadden and Matt Weiner
Caffe Delia's Delia MacFadden and Matt Weiner
Sara Billups

Seattle proper is flooded with cafes, but south of the city specialty coffee options are a little harder to scout out. A welcome find is the year-old Caffe Delia in the middle of White Center's retail strip. Caffe Delia owners Delia MacFadden and Matt Weiner affirm that White Center is one of the few pockets within reach of downtown Seattle where rent remains moderate and starting a fledgling food or retail business for first time entrepreneurs is within reach. But the owners of the cafe also feel a tension between wanting their neighborhood to become increasingly viable and healthy while protecting its identity and affordability.

For some quick background, before opening Delia last April, MacFadden worked for PCC and learned how to pull shots at West Seattle's Bird on a Wire. After going the "home espresso machine" route and frequenting their closest neighborhood cafe Dubsea for years, MacFadden began kicking around with the idea of launching a cafe and casually checked out a few spaces.

Still, she was "only half-serious" about starting a coffee bar when the owner of Proletariat Pizza encouraged her to go all in and open her own shop. Then a Proletariat employee, MacFadden first tested the cafe waters via a morning pop-up inside the pizzeria. When Proletariat expanded into the back of a vacant tattoo parlor next door, Caffe Delia filled in the front with a brick-and-mortar cafe.

MacFadden and Weiner have lived in White Center for the past 12 years. "This downtown has not blown up into some crazy Columbia City thing," Weiner says. "We've built up a really nice community of people," MacFadden adds. "And fortunately for us, with the new real estate boom people are moving in." But rent hikes have started to creep into the area and drive friends out. "We just lost a great neighbor that had to move because of the [rising] rent," Weiner says.

In order to stay accessible, the Delia couple tries to to keep prices low — nothing except whole bean coffee is more than five dollars. "We're trying to have a coffee shop where we can serve what we want, but we're not trying to push anyone out. We're certainly not in the business of hoping everything closes and reopens as another Ballard or something like that," Weiner says. "But we also understand that that's not the way neighborhoods work. They just keep changing."

For the rest of 2015, the couple is planning to refine their space and possibly expand hours and staff. "We went through a brief [barista] dry spell, where Delia worked 65 or 70 days in a row and we knocked a bunch of stuff off the credit card," Weiner says. "It almost knocked me out," MacFadden laughs. They're also in conversation about how and when to adopt Seattle's $15 wage hike.

To be clear, White Center businesses do not legally need to meet Seattle's wage benchmarks; the city line is one street over from Delia's storefront at Roxbury, then jogs south and ebbs. Although there are still a lot of unknowns about how the impending wage increase will impact small businesses in and around Seattle, the couple is "totally in favor" of adopting $15 independently.

As MacFadden puts it, "for a large group of people, including single parents, it's hard enough to make it on $15" and affirms that will implement the city's plan ahead of schedule if possible. "If [$15 hour] is the kind of thing that's going to sink our coffee shop, then we did it wrong," Weiner says.

Caffe Delia

9622 A 16th Avenue SW, Seattle, WA 98106 (206) 457-8860 Visit Website

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