by Mark Van Streefkerk
Family-owned Beacon Hill restaurants Baja Bistro and Kusina Filipina were known for more than just their delicious, authentic recipes. Their customers and neighbors were welcomed like family when they came to dine. That was partly why the loss of both restaurants was so painful. After a change in building ownership led to a rent hike, the Paraiso family closed Kusina in 2017, and Baja shuttered after 25 years in 2020 due to the pandemic. The closures also reflected the decades-long trend of displacement and gentrification in Seattle. With the support of the Beacon Business Alliance (BBA) and a community-minded developer, these two legacy restaurants are planning to reopen in the same neighborhood they were previously forced out of.
Baja and CheBogz — the latter is owned by Paraiso family sisters Trixia and Paula — are returning to Beacon Hill, splitting a storefront space in the new Colina Apartments.
“It’s almost kind of like a fairy-tale story for People of Color,” Trixia said when reflecting on moving the restaurant back to Beacon Hill. “You don’t really get this opportunity to have a landlord say, ‘We want you guys here so that we can keep this community as diverse as it was before.’”
The approximately 3,500-square-foot space that will be split by Baja and CheBogz will be at street level in Colina West, just south of the Beacon Hill Link light rail station. At the time of this article, both businesses have submitted plans to the City for review. Once they get the green light, construction teams can start building out the kitchens and interiors. “We’re very excited about it,” said Baja owner Oscar Castro. “We’re hoping we’ll probably start construction over the next couple of weeks and hopefully be done by the end of the year.”
Since 1994 Castro has served dishes he learned from his mother and grandmother, cuisine from Baja California. The original space at 2414 Beacon Ave. S. was only about 1,000 square feet, and proudly doubled as Beacon Hill’s one and only gay bar and host of the popular weekly drag show performed by Atasha Manila every Wednesday night. The tiny restaurant just wasn’t large enough to justify staying open during a pandemic, leading to its eventual closure. “It was so small that it was impossible to maintain a safe distance [between customers],” Castro said. “We could only fit like two, three people. We weren’t set up for it.”
Tim Abell, principal at Pacific Housing Northwest, was a regular customer at Baja. Castro remembered asking him “to consider us the next time he makes a building, and he did.” Once Abell got the green light to start developing Colina Apartments, he reached out to Castro in 2019. “He asked me if I was interested. Of course we said yes, and the rest is history.”
Castro’s new Baja Bistro location will be just a stone’s throw from his brother (Luis Rodriguez) and sister-in-law’s (Leona Moore-Rodriguez) coffee shop and community hub, The Station.
Abell was also a frequent customer at Kusina Filipina. “He used to come to our restaurant for meetings with the Beacon Hill Merchants Association [now BBA],” Trixia said. “He’s very familiar with my family and what we’ve done in Beacon Hill.”
Immigrating to Seattle from the Philippines in 2006, the Paraiso family took over Kusina from the previous owners in 2011. Even years after they closed, the former Kusina location on the corner of Beacon Avenue South and South Hanford Street still bears the sign of the restaurant. Last year the exterior wall facing Hanford was painted over with a community mural, becoming Feed the People Plaza. The community artists memorialized the beloved restaurant by painting the names of old Kusina menu items in the mural: lumpia, sinigang, bangus sisig, and more. The tribute was also partly in reference to the old mural Kusina used to have on the same wall: a sprawling flow of flowers, including orchids, and a cherry tree in bloom, which was painted over when the building got a fresh coat of paint after the restaurant shuttered.
The Paraisos have acquired other turnkey restaurants: Manila’s Pride in Federal Way and Paraiso Filipino Native Foods in Tacoma. Inspired by seeing food trucks in Hawaiʻi, Trixia and Paula decided to branch out with a project of their own around the time Kusina was closing — a food truck called CheBogz. The name comes from Filipino slang meaning “let’s go eat” or “let’s get a snack” while also being a nod to her mother and father’s nicknames (“Chez” and “Bogi,” respectively), Trixia explained.
While the food truck had a few setbacks — including some costly repairs — CheBogz has been a popular lunchtime attraction in South Lake Union and other parts of Seattle, serving people who are typically unfamiliar with Filipino food. Trixia is passionate about introducing Filipino dishes to the uninitiated. CheBogz still sets up shop on Beacon Hill at the Sinclair gas station every other Wednesday.
Even with their other restaurants, the Paraisos never gave up hope that someday they would return to a brick-and-mortar location in Beacon Hill. With the help of Angela Castañeda, director of the BBA, that hope is materializing. Castañeda has been an invaluable resource to the Paraisos and other BIPOC- and/or immigrant-owned businesses on Beacon Hill, advocating for small businesses and connecting them with City resources.
While the Paraisos were running into obstacles with their landlord at Kusina, Trixia confided in Castañeda about what was going on. “She expressed to me her frustration with the whole losing Kusina,” Trixia said. Ever since then, “Angela was trying to help us figure out, ‘How do we bring you guys back?’”
Castañeda put CheBogz in touch with Abell and helped secure funding for the new restaurant through the Rainier Valley Community Development fund. “You can’t address anti-displacement work without addressing the nuances of relationships,” Castañeda said. It’s often the small, community-based organizations like the BBA, HomeSight, Rainier Beach Merchants Association, and others that help fill in the gaps between what the City can offer and people who need the funding and other resources.
On Oct. 1, CheBogz will launch their official crowdfunding campaign to help support additional costs of the restaurant buildout, and the community is invited to show up and join in the fun and even be in the Kickstarter video. On that day, Trixia and Paula will pull their food truck up to Feed the People Plaza, vending to loyal customers and the Beacon Hill community and promoting the fundraising campaign. “We’ll be letting them know that we’re trying to set roots in Beacon Hill again, one more time, and paint a picture of where it’s going to be located and what the project entails; what’s left for us to go over, and that we’re trying to come back and we’re gonna need some help.”
“I’m very excited and scared at the same time actually,” Trixia confessed. “But we’re definitely excited to be here. And I think the universe is telling us that this is the best time to make these moves.”
Follow CheBogz on Instagram and Facebook, and check out the calendar on their website to stay in the loop for future announcements. You can also follow @BBABeaconHill on Facebook or Instagram for news about the upcoming Kickstarter launch event, which they are partnering with CheBogz to produce, and other small business resource events like the next their Business Resource Open House series which will focus on the topics like “What does recovery look like for Seattle’s food economy?”
And stay tuned for more coverage of the Baja Bistro and CheBogz return to Beacon Hill from the Emerald.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the correct name of the Beacon Business Alliance, which is referred to in a quote by its previous name, the Beacon Hill Merchants Association.
📸 Featured Image: Two of Beacon Hill’s most beloved restaurants were forced out of the neighborhood. Now Baja Bistro and CheBogz are planning to reopen in the Colina Apartments. (Photo: Mark Van Streefkerk)
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