The long-running effort to return Ms. Helen’s Soul Bistro, one of Seattle’s most famous Black-owned restaurants, to the corner of 23rd Avenue and Union Street has apparently hit a roadblock, and the future of the highly anticipated comeback is now up in the air.
As recently as last year, Ms. Helen’s return seemed assured. The soul food restaurant — which was beloved by Black celebrities and locals alike until earthquake damage and gentrification pushed it out of the Central District — had been working with developer Lake Union Partners to open inside on the ground floor of the big new Midtown Square building at the same intersection Ms. Helen’s used to occupy. An opening date was penciled in for August 2022, but this never materialized. In April, Eater Seattle spoke to Jesdarnel “Squirt” Henton, daughter and partner of Ms. Helen’s founder Helen Coleman, and she said the project was running into financial difficulties and that she was working to raise $500,000 of the $1 million she estimated she needed.
Money is still a problem, according to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, which reports that the planned restaurant will no longer open in Midtown Square:
“In spite of their best efforts, it has become clear that that the 3,000 square foot space is more than they are willing to take on given the headwinds for raising the additional capital necessary beyond the landlord’s commitment pay for the build-out of the space,” the statement from Lake Union Partners reads. “Ms. Helen’s will continue with their catering business and will likely pursue either a smaller space for grab and go, or possibly roll out a Ms. Helen’s food truck.”
Henton tells Eater Seattle that statement is accurate. “The money is just not there,” she says. But she’s undeterred. Ms, Helen’s restaurant is still a catering business, and the plan is to reopen once Henton has raised the $1.5 million she now says she needs — and not just reopen, but open on 23rd and Union, in another development.
“I will be in the CD, I will be on that corner where we historically have been,” she says. “Don’t count us out, because we’re not done.”
The corner has become a hot spot for Black-owned cafes and restaurants even without the presence of Ms. Helen’s. Communion and Avole Coffee anchor the Liberty Bank Building, while across the street Midtown Square still has Trey Lamont’s Jerk Shack Kitchen.
UPDATE, Friday, November 24 2:05 p.m.: This post has been updated to include comment from Henton.