Local businessman Jeff Ramsey has purchased a majority stake in Cafe Racer, the iconic University District cafe that closed in October due to financial woes, and plans to reopen the business with upgrades to its food and service, according to The Stranger. Ramsey said that the cafe’s original owner, Kurt Geissel, will remain onboard with a minority stake, and one other investor is also involved.
Geissel had been hoping to find a buyer for the cafe, saying as much when he announced the closure on Facebook: “Contact me if you are interested because the last thing I want is for the café to go away.” Ramsey’s wife forwarded him the post, and he reached out to Geissel.
“Café Racer is a living memorial in a city that is rapidly losing, in my opinion, much of the artistic culture and subculture that was thriving in Seattle back in the mid-'90s,” Ramsey told The Stranger. “It’s understandable because often these kinds of businesses live on the margin—if the rent is too high or if you have a bad month, it can put you out of business.” With his help, hopefully the cafe can inspire the community for years to come, including by working with groups like Sanctuary Art Center, a homeless youth arts program.
Ramsey’s most recent project was upgrading the food and beverage menus and overall service experience at the Can Can, Pike Place Market’s underground cabaret, and he plans to effect similar improvements at Cafe Racer, while avoiding major changes. “There is no reason why Café Racer can’t be a bustling place for happy hour, late night snacks, and brunch on the weekends,” he said. Ramsey has his own history with the business, having been a customer and then starting a monthly art night there with music, spoken word, and indie films, and he said he was profoundly sad when he heard it had closed.
Beyond its role as a neighborhood staple, most readers will likely associate Cafe Racer with the horrific incident on May 30, 2012, in which Ian Stawicki, a cafe regular, shot and killed four people inside the cafe. Stawicki’s shooting spree continued downtown, where he killed another person before turning the gun on himself. Geissel nearly closed Cafe Racer for good after that, but an outpouring of community support encouraged him to reopen a month and a half later.