Caffè Vita outgrew its ‘90s roots a long time ago. The Italian clown–branded coffee roaster hasn’t just expanded its presence to every halfway hip Seattle neighborhood, it’s opened outposts in New York City and Phoenix, Arizona (its Los Angeles location closed a few years ago). Its beans and branding are everywhere. But come October 1, the company is moving on from the original Queen Anne location where the business started.
In a press release on Wednesday, September 13, Vita said that it has declined to renew its lease on the North Fifth Avenue space. Turtle Coffee, a longtime wholesale partner with Vita, is taking it over. This new cafe will serve Vita beans and is “welcoming existing employees to stay on at the cafe and join the Turtle Coffee team,” per the press release, so for a lot of customers the experience might not change much.
This is notable mainly because the original Caffè Vita has some historical significance. It birthed one of Seattle’s most successful coffee mini-empires of the past three decades, and it still feels like something out of the grunge era. It’s small and a bit dark and dominated by a mural of ominous clowns; when Eater Seattle stopped by this week to confirm it was closing, Pavement B-sides were playing on the speakers. The spirit of the ‘90s is alive!
The more recently opened Vita locations tend to be sleeker and more spacious, like the flagship store on Capitol Hill or the one inside the KEXP Gathering Space, a record’s throw away from that first Vita. The company has changed a lot as its expanded throughout Seattle and beyond, and a few years ago (following a controversy over a policy banning giving away food to homeless people) it was taken over by restauranteur Deming Maclise. The transformation of that original Vita into a Turtle isn’t a turning point, just a punctuation mark in a very long story.