Tina Bueche
Owner, Diner, 72 S Washington St (Pioneer Square), 340-8859.

Tina Bueche is an all-around inspirational lady. She's been a local business owner since the early '90s, and as a community activist she gets involved and shows up at public hearings. Since she opened Diner last October, Bueche (formerly of Dutch Ned's) has been serving classic diner favorites to a neighborhood desperately craving a proper grilled cheese and a checkerboard floor.

You've been in the neighborhood awhile.

"Yeah, I started Dutch Ned's in '92, and then the earthquake shut us down. Then I tried to retire--but I just couldn't do it. I'm just way too hyper. So I decided to do this. I live down here and I felt the neighborhood needed a sort of... ice cream parlor, with food, something that's not a bar, that's lighter, airier, that's not fine dining. So [Diner] is the evolution of all that: I decided we needed more breakfast variety in the Square. And we don't need another bar, but we need a place that offers milkshakes and banana splits, which I really love doing. Our lunches are strong, and breakfasts are growing, and I'm really pleased with it."

Pioneer Square has weathered a lot.

"I've been here since 1988, and it's by no means as busy or strong as it was when I first moved down here. But in recent months we've started to see it get better, from the dot-com crash and 9/11. Real estate, though, is still really pricey, and... I think that's why we have so many retail vacancies."

We quoted you in a story a few weeks ago on the soon-to-be-reopened Fenix, about how certain retailers want the Fenix to commit to a "Good Neighbor" agreement--

"I don't think it's right. The Fenix has a long track record of running a responsible business, so if you're going to go after someone with a 'Good Neighbor' agreement, it most definitely shouldn't be someone who's already demonstrated that they're an asset to the neighborhood."

I also remember you from Music & Youth Task Force meetings at city hall a couple years ago.

"I was real frustrated by the task force--and I'm also frustrated with what's going on now. We are so mired in this TDO/AADO thing... this dialogue about the [Teen Dance Ordinance] versus the [All-Ages Dance Ordinance], as opposed to the bigger question, which is, 'How can we make Seattle a stimulating, exciting, appropriate place for people who aren't yet 21?' I'm glad I'm not 18 in Seattle. I'd like to see the city get really excited about sponsoring concerts and things that kids say they want, as opposed to things adults think they should want."

Tina, this is the second time I've been in here when you're waiting tables all by yourself. You're working your ass off.

"I love it. [Laughs.] I have the best staff in the world, and normally I don't work breakfasts during the week except to fill in. But Saturday is my day. I love Saturdays."

Interview by Min Liao