Seattle's most famous beverage brand, Starbucks, rose to fame curating the "third place." But the coffee shop as a second home or office has fallen to the wayside with the arrival of the latest trend in restaurants: the all-day cafe.
The trend began as a slow trickle, with Oddfellows, Vif, and Mr. West, but has sped up in recent months with the opening of Cherry Street Public House and Cafe Hitchcock. The all-day cafe, as the name implies, is a restaurant open throughout the day, but in practice it's more than that—a coffee shop that serves dinner, a restaurant with grab-and-go pastries, a place where laptops can be seen next to cocktail glasses as often as they are next to coffee cups, and where business meetings sit side by side with happy hours. The all-day cafe as a genre is hard to define, because at any given moment, it acts as something different to the people it serves.
When the Exchange Building, the striking art-deco skyscraper on First Avenue that houses Cafe Hitchcock, approached owner Brendan McGill to open another outlet of his Georgetown Hitchcock Deli there, he tried to anticipate the financial and logistical intricacies. He came back with the idea of an all-day cafe approach—inspired by places like Gjusta in Los Angeles and Cafe Presse here at home—to ameliorate his operating concerns.
He knew that he needed more than just the deli lunch rush to cover the costs of operating downtown, but most of the models serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner were hotel restaurants. The majority of the lunch options in what he called the "dead zone" between Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square were corporate chains. "What if you can displace some of those with food that's high quality?" he wondered. What if he could get Starbucks drinkers to pay an extra dollar for coffee paired with organic milk from a local business, or diners to trade their Jimmy John's sub for a spice roasted lamb leg sandwich with lemon aioli?
During the day, Cafe Hitchcock functions as a counter service place, with an array of Macrina Bakery pastries spread on the broad surface that separates the kitchen from a long series of tables. But more eye-catching—and more on-brand—than the colorful-but-familiar Macrina goods is the towering pile of house-made buttermilk biscuits, which may just be the best ones this side of the Bible Belt. The biscuits, like the house-made organic yogurt, hazelnut granola, and spiced cauliflower salad, show off the cafe's advantage over other nearby places: It makes its own food under the direction of an award-winning chef, McGill. But McGill hasn't fully established that identity for the cafe yet.
"Any time you open a restaurant that's a little different, there's always an education component," McGill admits. Some of that, it seems, was educating himself—in the year and a half spent building out the space, he ate numerous lunches in the area and spent a lot of time thinking about how to best be of service to the neighborhood. He also knew just where to look for inspiration: "Cafe Presse," he says, "is the gold standard."
Joanne Herron and Jim Drohman opened Cafe Presse a decade ago, at the forefront of the all-day cafe trend in Seattle. Herron admits their rookie effort, Le Pichet, swerved more to the meal-focused side of things as it evolved. But with their sophomore swing, they found the concept's sweet spot. Having spent time in Europe, they wanted to build the kind of community centerpiece that cafes tend to be in Europe. "A place where people can drop in at all times and have conversations and political arguments and listen to music." To Herron, this format seemed so important to the life of a city. Like the more recent cafes, she saw that the all-day cafe needed to be a bright, inviting, open space that allows people to shape the place into what they need it to be. Today, the space is shared by studying students, local workers, and huddled hipsters, but finding that identity and letting the community claim it as their own was Cafe Presse's initial struggle.
Laila Ghambari of Cherry Street Public House knows that struggle well. She describes the Pioneer Square establishment as "finding our identity in between a coffee shop and a restaurant." The narrow space's big windows look out onto Occidental Park, and running along the inside, three different spaces delineate the trio of identities the shop marries: a coffee shop area near the counter, a restaurant-like atmosphere in the center, and what Ghambari calls a "laptop bar" at the end.
From the counter, patrons can order the kind of coffee drinks you might expect a champion barista to design her cafe around—single-origin pour-overs, nitro cold-brew on tap, and lattes sweetened to your specifications. The food, however, is a departure from the quickie-cafe specials served at Cherry Street Coffee: Middle Eastern spices and Persian flavors from Ghambari's heritage weave their way through the menu along with breakfast classics and lunch standards—waffles with tahini butter, avocado toast with lemon sumac-dressed frisée, and a selection of khoresht (Persian stews).
Like Herron before her and McGill alongside her, Ghambari uses the flexibility and agility of the all-day cafe to her advantage, watching the patterns of the patrons and adapting the menu and style to serve them. It's a refreshing change from the era of the chef-driven "no substitutions" style of restaurant. As Cafe Hitchcock and Cherry Street Public House feel around for their identities, Cafe Presse stands as an example of success in the space. Herron, for one, hopes they can succeed, saying that all-day cafes "make for a vibrant community," underscoring the need for a place where people feel comfortable to sit, socialize, and eat. "It's vital for the community and city. Seattle was really at a loss when there weren't more."