by Amanda Ong
After almost seven months of in-person closure, Cafe Red in Othello reopened its doors for service in April. The return of the beloved neighborhood café comes with a new all-vegan menu, plenty of goods from local companies, and a renewed commitment to community.
More than anything, co-owners Jesiah Wurtz and Haley Williams hope that through their thoughtful space, food, and events, they can offer the community a place of love, safety, and authenticity.
“We all just kind of need some grace, and so love is really important to me to be able to create a space where anybody can walk through the doors and feel like they belong, where it just feels like you can show up and just be yourself fully, authentically,” Wurtz said. “And I think, historically, there haven’t been a ton of those spaces.”
It’s been a long pandemic road for the all-vegan café that originally started as a bicycle cafe pop-up in 2015. In March 2020 they closed the café due to the onset of COVID-19. Then they reopened August 2020 to August 2021, then shut down until reopening this April.
For Williams and Wurtz, veganism is a vital aspect of the café’s ability to serve the South Seattle community. “People talk a lot about how South Seattle is a food desert,” Wurtz said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “If people are looking for plant-based options, [they’re] pretty few and far between. Some people care about animal welfare and suffering. Other people care about the environmental impact of their decisions. Other people need to pay attention to their health … But one of the biggest barriers is accessibility, and so we just kind of wanted to make it easy for people to make that decision.”
“When we started we actually opened up vegetarian,” Williams said. “But we’re both vegan, and [the pandemic] gave us a chance to close and rethink why not just be fully vegan? If we’re failing veganism, our own values, why not incorporate [veganism] into the actual café?”
“I think it always felt wrong to offer things on the menu that we wouldn’t even eat ourselves,” Wurtz said.
Wurtz and Williams are both particularly excited for some of their new menu offerings and partnerships with other vegan restaurants and foodmakers. They’re working with No Bones Beach Club, a women-owned vegan company that had restaurants in Ballard and Portland, but have since closed because of the pandemic and are running from a wholesale model. Cafe Red will be offering their artichoke blossoms and cauliflower wings, and hope former fans of No Bones Beach Club’s Ballard location will come try them.
They are also partnering with another woman-owned vegan company called Snacktivist Foods, that specializes in gluten-free baking mixes. They are using their ingredients to offer new pastries to their menus, including chocolate chip cookies and soon, brownies.
“Hopefully next month we’ll have this out, but I grew up in Ohio out at a small bakery there,” Wurtz said. “Prior to me being 10 years old, I have a lot of memories from that. And we’re working on veganizing those recipes.”
Their sandwiches and their mac and cheese use tofu from ChuMinh Tofu, which is known for their community mutual aid work and whose tofu factory is down the street from Cafe Red. Their bread comes from Moon Village Bakery in Skyway, which Wurtz says is run by a young South Seattle family.
“[Moon Village Bakery] has just really amazing brand new special recipes for breakfast breads,” Wurtz said. “They call them Moon muffins. It’s basically a twist on English muffins. They’re a little bit bigger and denser than English muffins, and are just a really special recipe they made for us.”
They also are working with the Apple Guy, who in turn works with farms in Eastern Washington to bring apples directly to people and skip the distribution middlemen, so that farmers can get better prices.
Wurtz is particularly excited about supporting Fulcrum Coffee, which is run by Blas Alfaro from his roastery in SoDo.
“Fulcrum Coffee is run by a fifth generation Costa Rican, queer, coffee farmer, [whose family has] grown coffee since the early 1800s,” Wertz said. “And they have grown up literally picking coffee as a kid on a coffee farm. [Fulcrum] really has such a deep heart for the experience of coffee farmers, understands their struggle, and is just so intentional about finding ways to support them … it really does more than I’ve seen any other roaster in Seattle do to really support the communities [Alfaro] sources coffee from.”
Prior to the pandemic, Cafe Red was hosting several events a week prioritizing artists from South Seattle, and Wurtz and Williams are particularly concerned with housing issues and sweeps in the area. Past South Seattle-based performers have included Ready Ron Beats, Essam, Esai, and Planet 39. They have also hosted national acts, like Carnage the Executioner.
“This is what the people in South Seattle are doing, what’s up,” Wurtz said. “That’s kind of what we see the space as. We want it to be a stepping stone where people can come in and be themselves and do their thing and use it as a stepping stone to get to wherever they’re off to next.”
Cafe Red does not plan to host as many events per week as they did prior to the pandemic, but hope to begin hosting open mics soon. A reopening party on May 20 featured artists from Ready Ron’s Takeover Music Collective and Shubzilla/Bill Beats’ Noir Grime label, and free vegan donuts from Dough Joy were available for the first 125 attendees.
Visit Cafe Red at 7148 MLK Jr. Blvd S. The café is open for both dine-in and patio seating Tuesday through Sunday. From Tuesday through Friday, they are open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday they are open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can also order ahead or for pick up on the Joe app.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Beloved neighborhood spot Cafe Red has emerged from the pandemic with an all-vegan menu and a greater commitment to community. (Photo: Marcus Harrison Green)
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