White Center's Caffe Delia originally ran out of a corner of Proletariat Pizza during the restaurant's off-hours. The Proletariat owners suggested the arrangement when they learned of Delia MacFadden's long-standing desire to run her own cafe. "I was working in the coffee shop in the morning and the pizza place in the evening," says Delia, who honed her barista skills at Bird on a Wire Espresso. "I was way too old to be doing that. I would wash the last dish and then start folding napkins to open the pizza place." She reports that the pizza that pairs best with coffee is chard, goat cheese, and roasted garlic.
The quasi-pop-up was very popular, so about a month ago, she and Matt Weiner reopened in their own space next door. It looks simple and elegant: high ceilings, big windows, and walls painted an inviting robin's-egg blue. Also simple and elegant: the cafe's furniture, which Matt says was shockingly expensive. He learned it's easy to underestimate the cost of tables and chairs for a business if you're just used to furnishing your own apartment.
Delia chose the Italian spelling of the word "cafe" as an homage to her beloved uncle Folger, who moved to Italy 30 years ago. Not referenced by the shop's name: Delia's grandfather Hamilton MacFadden, who directed the first Shirley Temple movie and the first three Charlie Chan movies before being mysteriously blacklisted from Hollywood. He was so reviled that when the up-and-coming actress Ruth Channing married him, GM buried her contract. The reasons for all this remain unknown.
Matt is a professional musician who plays double bass for a few local bands, including the Bric-a-Brac Trio, which you can see on Thursday nights at the Pink Door. He also played on and produced the last Barton Carroll record. Matt describes Carroll as "an excellent local singer-songwriter and an excellent plumber."
When I read that Caffe Delia is part of the Rat City Business Association, I became curious about how White Center came to be known as Rat City. In the 10 years that Matt and Delia have lived in the neighborhood, they've heard many inconclusive theories. "There's so many different stories, and I hesitate to repeat any of them," Matt says. "People say it's related to some kind of military rehabilitation center in the area, that it was a low-alcohol area in the '20s, and also that the sailors who came down here were called rats. No one really knows."
I have rarely seen smiles as hard to interpret as Matt and Delia's when asked for good stories about regulars. Two customers bought $1,000 worth of coffee to help Caffe Delia get off the ground in its new location. Conversely, a man once emerged from the bathroom after 40 minutes with a trash bag full of "something liquidy," as Matt describes it. The man then said, "Don't worry, I cleaned up." It took Matt a good 15 minutes to work up the courage to look, but the bathroom was actually spotless. "But we spend most of our time making really good coffee here," Matt assures me. "It's not just puke stories!" Indeed, Delia's mochas are raved about online. When asked why they're so good, she says, "I don't know... I love chocolate, I love coffee. I'm pretty self-effacing, so I have trouble talking about myself or things I do." "She makes them really pretty," Matt says, smiling affectionately. (He supplied the anecdote about Delia's infamous grandfather as well.)