Café Racer owners Jeff Ramsey and Cindy Anne were bursting with optimism when they reopened the much-loved U District venue on Capitol Hill in 2021—even in the midst of a global pandemic. But their altruistic intentions to uplift Seattle's all-ages music scene and arts community didn't result in sufficient attendance and Café Racer began to rack up debts of around $40,000 in unpaid rent and $10,000 in state taxes, which forced the business to close in October. 

But things are looking up again, as angel investor Jody Ramsammy has joined Café Racer's ranks in order to, they hope, boost business and improve infrastructure. As CEO of Vivid Presents and On the HIYU and a tech savant, South African native Ramsammy has garnered success running entertainment events in clubs and on boats. In addition, Café Racer has linked up with "fiscal sponsor" Allied Arts Foundation with the goal of transitioning to some form of nonprofit status. 

Despite these changes, Café Racer's mission remains unswerving: "We serve marginalized communities, underserved communities, and give them a platform to share their art," Ramsey told Capitol Hill Seattle blog. Toward that end, Café Racer is looking for local artists to host a Gen Z radio show on Café Racer Radio as well as artists from that demographic to perform at a weekly all-ages mini fest. (Aspirants can send examples of their music and a mini bio to

Ramsey and Cindy Anne had been keeping the business afloat with their savings. "As it was becoming apparent that I was gonna run out [of money]," Ramsey says in a phone interview, "we started the relationship with Allied Arts. Unfortunately, the lead person for [AA] had a family situation that required their attention. We had hoped for a July 1 launch of the Allied Art campaign, but we were delayed almost two months. That delayed us doing any sort of fundraising campaign. And that delay put us in arrears, not being able to pay August 1 rent and things like that.

"It became about personal integrity. I couldn't honestly start a fundraising campaign when we were already in the hole. Because at this point, the landlord wasn't guaranteeing—even if we paid the rent—that we were going to be able to reopen. I didn't feel good about asking for money only to end up paying debt and not be able to guarantee the future of Café Racer."

Café Racer moved into the old Barça space on Capitol Hill in 2021. DAVE SEGAL

On December 1, Café Racer held a "Makin' Rent" show, on short notice. While the draw wasn't as large as hoped, the bar did well. It's part of an incremental journey back to business as usual for the beleaguered company. They're throwing another fundraiser on December 8 with Between the Lines, a local collective renowned for their underground dance parties focusing on techno, house, and UK garage.  

Ramsammy's financial stability will enable Café Racer to pay off debts and keep its doors open while they forge a new business model that is potentially sustainable. "Jody approached us because he believes in what we're doing," Ramsey says. "And we represent a community that he doesn't represent in his world. He's big in the dance-music world, we're big in the live-music world. Bringing those things together as well as providing support for youth, that was another big mission of his. It was a perfect pairing."

With Ramsammy's help, Café Racer has upgraded its water heater, toilets, lighting, and speakers. "We brought in these monster speakers, these Voids," Ramsey says. "They can be super-loud and yet you can somehow still have a conversation near them. They're based on frequency. Jody and I were literally standing in front of the speakers the other day, at full volume, and we were having a conversation. I could hear him and I have terrible hearing. That's going to be a huge benefit to people in the space—and for bartenders, as well. We want the dance sound and the live sound to be top-notch.

Beyond that, the stage will be increased by a couple of feet from its current 12'x12' dimensions and a green room will be added on the mezzanine. "I think musicians are going to be very pleased [with these changes]," Ramsey says.

Similar to Vera Project, Café Racer will combine live events with programs that help young people master music-oriented skills. "We have a couple of people who want to do mentorship programs out of Racer: Lara Lavi and Cameron Lavi-Jones from King Youngblood have a nonprofit called Hold Your Crown. It's an organization that provides mental health support to youth. Tiffany Wilson already has a mentorship program. Her Thursday nights have been a regular at Racer, and she and her crew are coming back in January. (She's at Teatro now.) We've been talking with XP Andrews, who's one of Macklemore's singers, and Macklemore has a youth mentorship program.

"There's also Sharing the Stage, a similar program where they have a local headliner and they provide opportunities for student artists to perform prior to the headliner, and the headliner provides a mentoring environment and also exposure to an audience. That is definitely a big part of where we're headed."

Booking will largely remain the same as before the brief shutdown. Café Racer had scheduled dance nights on Fridays and Saturdays to help support the live music dates. "It's just we weren't dance-music people," Ramsey admits. "So I didn't know which DJs would be successful. Whereas Jody brings in DJs from all over the world to do shows. His relationships with the successful global DJs will certainly round out the Fridays and Saturdays and help provide the kind of revenue that we need in order to pay the bills."

Cafe Racer isn't quite back in business as they knew it. They still need to fill out the calendar, and because December is such a busy month, it's been difficult to find acts for it. So, Ramsey's now booking January through March. "There are a couple of touring artists coming in March and May. The calendar's starting to populate a bit. Our desire is by January our open mic will be back and we'll be back to regular programming. Tiffany Wilson's coming back on January 11. She created this soul/R&B/hip-hop open mic, but it's a little different. Her band—which is full of amazing musicians—would play live and people would come in and want to perform with them. They would pick a song—the band knows virtually every song—and they would perform with this live band. You'd have people like Tiffany Wilson and her crew lay down background vocals. It was a really up-leveled open mic. It became one of our most successful evenings.

"That's one thing Racer has always been about: providing that place where people don't have that opportunity anywhere else. We're willing to give everybody some [stage] time."

Ramsey and company are also pondering bringing back artists in residence. "We want to do all of those things, as long as we have secured enough consistent shows that are providing the sustainable revenue for us."

One aspect that's hurt Café Racer has been insurance: it rose from $26,000 a year to $44,000. "That's like 10% of our revenue!" Ramsey exclaims. "How do small businesses survive? I talked to the Office of Economic Development and said, 'I feel like there's gotta be some sort of cap,' but I don't know who would provide that. Bars are especially at the mercy of insurance companies, because there are so few who provide insurance for bars."

Ramsey has learned some lessons over the last two years of running a business on Capitol Hill, compared to his experiences with the U District space, for which he lately has become nostalgic. "I miss the food. We did such good food in the U District. I loved that part of feeding people, feeding their souls. When we got the Barça space, I knew we were making the choice to really not provide food. It was going to be sandwiches or hotdogs, but it was not going to be to the level that we did. I was willing to make that compromise in order to provide more opportunities for artists. They were going to have a real space, a real sound system, real sound people. I was very excited about that, because it's such a big part of our mission. Food had never really been part of the mission, but it was something I loved.

"I feel like that no matter what we do as a venue, there's more to it than just providing music. The thing that we lost by not having food was, we provided a lot of community in the old space. We fed people breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were meet-ups there all the time. By not having that, we lost of a lot of that extra-community. The Philosophical Society stopped coming. The psychedelic society (I forgot what they're called now) used to do their meet-ups every Wednesday afternoon and they'd eat lunch. There was a lot of breaking bread [at the old Café Racer].

"The thing I learned the most was not to be overly confident. I, like many of my peers, believed that once the pandemic was over, [business] was going to go back to 2018-2019 levels of audiences. The pandemic changed the way people got their entertainment. I went into this thinking we were going to kill it. All of our artists live on Capitol Hill, a lot of the people who would come to the shows in the U District lived on Capitol Hill... That just wasn't the case.

"The other thing was, expenses were more, so in any future endeavor, I'd be more conservative than I've been. I opened the old Racer on a shoestring, so I was underfunded. The new Racer, I definitely had the funding, I had the background; I was so confident. That was really misguided.

"I talked to a lot of people in the neighborhood before we rented the space, and everybody had that same feeling: 'As soon as the pandemic's over, everything's gonna be great!' Yeah, that didn't happen."

Café Racer presents Between the Line with alexia, KJ3, Temenon, and Manwell Fri Dec 8, 6 pm, free before 10 pm, $10 after.

Tax-deductible donations to Café Racer can be made here.