Photo depicting 3 workers and co-owners of Jude's posing in front of the restaurant.

Worker-Owned Jude’s Breaking Barriers in Rainier Beach

by Ronnie Estoque

Located on 57th Street just off Rainier Avenue in Rainier Beach, Northwest Cajun-inspired Jude’s is paving the way for other establishments by being a rare example of a co-op restaurant in Seattle.

Co-owner Mark Paschal started working at Jude’s in 2016 as a bartender. He left the restaurant in 2019 and purchased it with a business partner, Leith Shenstone, in January of 2020 when the previous owner decided to sell. A few months later, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were reduced to only providing takeout while dining in was prohibited. 

“My favorite part about being a bartender is sharing things that I think are really fantastic with people,” Paschal said. “You don’t really get an opportunity to do that when it’s just window service. You have small conversations, you try to bring a little bit of brightness and joy to people’s lives.”

Paschal’s previous business partner presented the opportunity to have his stake in the restaurant bought out after deciding to relocate to Cle Elum. In January of 2021, Paschal became the sole owner of Jude’s, which was short-lived, as he soon began to envision a co-op model for the establishment. 

“The possibility of this place being worker-owned was on the table, sort of the dull dreariness of running a business during COVID, all of a sudden, morphed into joyous energy,” Paschal said. “I did some research and then presented it in March [of 2021].” 

Paschal utilized Twitter to connect with people who had knowledge of co-op business models, including the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. “There’s only so much that you can learn from anyone else, you have to go through the process of becoming a collective. And that process can take time, especially because a lot of us didn’t really know each other previously, or our relationships were purely work relationships,” Paschal said. 

According to Paschal, the 10 co-owners at Jude’s have one more meeting to finalize their bylaws, which will be presented to the City of Seattle as the operating principles of their LLC. 

Co-owner Tyree Chinyelu has been a cook at Jude’s for just over a year, but has been in the restaurant industry for six years. He says working at Jude’s has allowed him to feel more ingrained into the Rainier Beach community. 

“We have community focus here. And I haven’t had that every place I worked, right, especially not at chains. It’s nice to be at a place where we care about each other, which doesn’t always feel super common in the industry,” Chinyelu said. “We also care about how we’re affecting our neighbors.” 

Chinyelu is excited by the possibility of forming more mutual aid relationships with other Rainier Beach establishments and community groups. Since becoming a co-owner, he has observed how he and the rest of the collective have had to define their roles and responsibilities to keep Jude’s operating smoothly, and he believes that it has boosted morale. 

“I’ve never worked in a place that bounces back so fast, because we do have agency,” Chinyelu said. “I feel like people think of this as a place of refuge.”

Jude’s offers a variety of Cajun-inspired dishes. According to Chinyelu, the grits plate is a special that provides “the full spectrum of our flavor profiles.” They are anticipating a seasonal menu change in the upcoming months, but continue to source food that is local and fresh. 

“We collectively make this place better than it would be as individuals,” Paschal said, “and that includes the people who come in to dine, people who come in to drink, like when Jude’s is really operating at its best … it’s because we own our own labor and we’re collectively working for each other. We’re not collectively working for an individual or a corporate entity.”

Ronnie Estoque is a South Seattle-based freelance photographer and videographer. You can keep up with his work by checking out his website.

📸 Featured Image: Northwest Cajun-inspired Jude’s is paving the way for other establishments by being a rare example of a co-op restaurant in Seattle. (Photo: Ronnie Estoque)

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