“I’m a simple woman,” texted Leona Moore-Rodriguez, while sending me her order for Seattle Best Tea. “Black with boba works <3.”
Moore-Rodriguez is the co-owner of The Station, a social justice-focused coffee, sandwich, and wine bar on Beacon Hill. She’s also a mom—the kind you’d want to have. She refers to her kids, ages 14 and 17, as “the loves of my life,” listens almost exclusively to ‘90s R&B, and has piercings in places my mother wouldn’t approve of.
As Erykah Badu’s “Another Lifetime” plays overhead in the dim coffeehouse, Leona and I find secluded corner seats at the wooden bar, boba drinks in hand. The air smells punchy of sweet cinnamon and spicy chocolate. Mutual aid information posters, Basquiat-style paintings, and Black liberation prints line the walls around us.
The pastry case next to the register is filled with Macrina chocolate chip cookies and croissants. Sandwiches like “El Centro” (chicken, avocado, and spinach) or “Tio Ruben” (corned beef and sauerkraut) star on the menu. Every so often, The Station will invite a guest chef for a pop-up. Those days, The Station may be filled wall-to-window with the scent of smoky baby-backs and slow-cooked gumbo.
As Leona and I chat, we uncover a few strange synchronicities in our personal histories. We are both Cancer suns, for example. And I share the same birthday as her mother: June 26. Leona’s family also has roots in Baltimore, Maryland, which happens to be my hometown.
I pull out a pen and paper and start sketching Leona as she speaks. Today, she’s piled her braids up on her head like a crown. Her brown eyes look bigger through the lens of her glasses, and she’s wearing a casual black hoodie and boots. She fiddles thoughtfully with the straw in her drink while answering questions, with a voice that ebbs softly like a low-tide wave.
Leona tells me more about her boys, two teenagers who “stay in their rooms unless they’re hungry, or if I say there’s food, or if they have to use the bathroom.” She “would have had more kids” if given the chance, but also says that “when they give me shit, I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I actually wanted you!’ I tell them, ‘I’ll give you back,’” she laughs. “But that doesn’t happen often.”
Leona’s children grew up in and out of The Station, where the local community is like family to the Moore-Rodriguezes. “My kids can’t even walk down the street without someone saying to me, ‘Hey, I saw your kids at the library! I saw them at Red Apple!’” She tells me. “I appreciate that people are looking out for them because I worry about them a lot. I’m raising two Black boys! There are people who will police my children like men.”
The Station opened in 2010 when Leona’s husband, Luis Rodriguez, opened a coffee business based on one that he had started with his brother back in 1994. Leona joined in and became what Luis describes as “boss-lady” (although only he is ever allowed to call her that), and the rest is history. Over the next decade, The Station would become a cornerstone for the South Seattle community. Leona remembers her and Luis’s original intent behind the café: “We just wanted to be our own bosses, we wanted our own space, to play our music, as loud as we want, and just kick it.”
Leona tells me a little about Luis, who she says “has energy like Tigger, from Winnie-the-Pooh. As soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, he starts talking.” From the stories she shares, it seems as if Leona and Luis are complete opposites of one another. If Luis has the boundless energy of a steam-powered engine, Leona is the gentle swaying of the sea, guiding his ship to safe harbor. If Luis is the one with the grand ideas and charisma, Leona is the one to put her foot down and temper his hyperkinesis. She often wishes she had learned to cool his flame earlier. “I would have saved us a lot of time and money,” Leona tells me with a roll of her eyeballs.
The Moore-Rodriguezes met while attending Nathan Hale High School in Lake City. They started dating during Leona’s senior summer, eloping the following spring. The pair recently celebrated their 25th anniversary together. Luis, a young immigrant from Northern Mexico, had always been expressive and outgoing. Leona, a third-generation Black Seattleite, was more shy and introverted.
At The Station, Luis usually runs front-of-house, while Leona prefers to stay behind the bar, brewing espresso. Leona also plays the role of resident DJ, shuffling a groove-heavy rotation of Prince, Janet Jackson, TLC, and New Edition. “One of my favorite moments of the day is playing a song that everybody knows. It’s dope. And since I love ‘90s R&B, people are like, ‘I haven’t heard that in forever!’” But since the pandemic, things have changed. Leona says wistfully, “It’s not the same anymore.”
We pause to hear the song that’s on now. Leona’s large eyes glance up toward the screen. The music video for Kali Uchis’s “la luz (Fín)” is on courtesy of Daniyel, one of The Station’s baristas. Leona chuckles, “That’s my son’s girl!”
Despite Covid-19, The Station has found ways to continue supporting its local community. A month ago, the café hosted a mutual aid event with #Nikkita4Nine, activist Nikkita Oliver’s campaign for a Seattle City Council seat. More recently, Leona has also advocated to bring in more local pop-ups to The Station, especially ones run by women of color. Five different vendors have come to hustle their wares in the last few weeks, ranging from soy candles to hand pies to pints of fruity ice cream. Guests come for a Mexican Mocha or brown sugar “D’Angelo,” but stay for the community.
Leona is passionate about making The Station for anyone and everyone. “Have pop-ups, give people the space for their businesses,” she says. “Have art on the walls, someone different every month. People come here every day and spend their money here, so why be stingy with your space?”