by Phil Manzano
After more than two years, Redwing Cafe in Rainier Beach is open — another sign of businesses reemerging from the long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Redwing sits along South 57th Avenue just off Rainier Avenue South, the center of an eclectic group of small businesses that range from Drae’s Lake Route to Jude’s to Defined Salon. Around the corner on Rainier Avenue is Creamy Cone Café, and a little further down and across from the future Detective Cookie Chess Park is King Donuts (which will move a few blocks to the north into the former Beach Bakery site at 7820 Rainier Ave. S.).
Owner Anthony Campbell remembers meeting with all the staff as the pandemic unfolded in 2020. They had been watching what was unfolding in Italy with COVID-19 when they decided to close on March 13. They thought it would last a few weeks but as the crisis deepened, Campbell realized they wouldn’t be opening soon.
The idea behind Redwing was to be a welcoming space for the neighborhood. There wasn’t a clear way to do that with the pandemic.
“We always planned on reopening at some point,” Campbell said. “We considered doing just a takeout window. But we realized that one of main goals here is to have a community gathering space, so a takeout window wasn’t going to do it.”
In addition, there was concern about some of the café’s regulars who were in their 90s getting sick.
Instead, Anthony took the time to do some painting and refurbishing of the kitchen and outdoor seating area. In addition, Redwing’s Facebook page became a place where it supported local businesses around the block and the city.
“With the social media, we decided to highlight other neighborhood businesses that were open,” Campbell said. “Because, you know, it was tough for anyone who stayed open, so we wanted to just to encourage [people to support them].”
Campbell and co-owner Su Harambe have lived in Rainier Beach for more than 10 years and saw Redwing as a way to provide a gathering space for the local community.
“Before we opened originally,” Campbell said, “we had lived in the neighborhood for eight or 10 years and wanted, wished, there was a place to walk to, to get a cup of coffee, and hang out. There never was, and so at some point, we just decided to do it,” Campbell said.
Redwing Cafe opened with the motto: “Earth Food for Earth People,” serving vegetarian fare and coffee drinks. And besides the locals, they’ve had a couple of celebrities make their way to Redwing including radio and tv host and atheist spokesperson Ron Reagan and soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
Two years after the pandemic, the corner of 57th and Rainier Avenue is changing — reflecting the growth coming to the area. At a recent Rainier Beach Town Hall on development, community members heard that about 1,1000 units from about 20 projects are due to come online in the next few years.
Part of that growth is just around the corner from Redwing. Polaris at Rainier Beach, a 5-story affordable 306-unit apartment building, opened earlier this year. The apartment also has 5,300 square feet of ground-level commercial space and a 148-stall parking garage.
“You know this block — it’s been great,” Campbell said. “We opened around the same time as Nate’s (Drae’s Lake Route) and Jude’s and just the more stuff going on the block is better, the more activity on the block is better for us too.”
“It’s going to get more dense and more active, which I think is OK,” he said. “I used to be kind of anti-development, but now it’s like we need more housing in the city … so I’m all for building more housing in urban neighborhoods. The more people walking around, the safer and more friendly the neighborhood is anyway, so I think it’s going to get more lively and more dense with people.”
Editors’ Note: This article was updated with information about King Donuts’ future move to a new location and was changed to correct the figure that about 1,100 units are due to be built in Rainier Beach in the next few years.
Phil Manzano is a South Seattle writer, editor with more than 30 years of experience in daily journalism, and is the interim news editor for the Emerald.
📸 Featured Image: Anthony Campbell, co-owner of Redwing Cafe. (Photo: Phil Manzano)
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