Coffeehouse, community rise again in Greenwood
Green Bean Espresso Cafe puts on finishing touches as it prepares to reopen July 10 in the former McDonald's.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Saws whine, hammers tap and the smell of new wood fills the room. But next Saturday, the signs of new life in Greenwood's beloved community hub are expected to be less construction and more coffee.
A little more than eight months after Green Bean Coffeehouse was destroyed in an arson, the hiss of espresso-makers and milk steamers will mark its reopening at 8533 Greenwood Ave. N., the location of a former McDonald's.
The Green Bean was among a dozen businesses and two houses damaged or destroyed in a series of fires between June and November last year that also injured one man and set terrified owners and residents on 24-hour alerts in the North Seattle neighborhood.
Olive You, which was closed after sustaining $20,000 in fire damage, is tentatively set to reopen in late July at its original Greenwood Avenue location. But other restaurants lost in the arson might never return.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Building on North 85th Street was home not only to the Green Bean, but also to Pho Tic Tac, the Szechuan Bistro and CC Teriyaki, once-flourishing businesses with customers who raved about ample portions, excellent spring rolls and hot pot.
That changed Oct. 23 when someone broke into the Green Bean and started a fire that destroyed the coffee shop and restaurants, and also damaged the neighboring Taproot Theatre, which reopened earlier this year. Other nearby businesses and apartments were damaged by smoke and water.
That was the fifth arson fire in or near the neighborhood in four months, and six more followed until a homeless man was arrested following a Nov. 12 fire at a Shoreline warehouse. That man, Kevin Swalwell, plead guilty in May to 11 counts of arson and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for what a King County prosecutor called an "attack on an entire community."
The Green Bean started as a community-outreach project by Sanctuary Church, but customers say it became more a community center than an offshoot of a religious organization. Its founder, the Rev. Randy Rowland, says he hopes that reputation grows.
It attracts a wide range of people.
"I've seen guys who make six-figure salaries having coffee at the Green Bean next to someone who is living on the streets, who's coming in from the elements to wash his face and clean up," Rowland said.
"Our dream is to run more like a community center. We've had quite a few people interested in ESL [English as a second language] classes" being taught there. And in another section of the building Rowland dreams of arts-and-crafts classes, quilting circles, open-mike nights and an area for children to play, to make the Green Bean inviting for families.
"It's staggering how much communities need places to be together," Rowland said. "We've lost that through suburbanization."
The rebuild has come about "Extreme Makeover"-style, with lots of volunteers, said Emily Davis, one of the Green Bean managers. Among them is retired Air Force Col. Bob Jackson, who walked through, drill in hand, searching for screws as he and others put the finishing touches on the new shop.
After the Green Bean is open, Jackson says he'll be back behind the counter cooking his trademark quiches. Jackson also is known for his ability to chat with anyone, Rowland said.
"Hospitality is the No. 1 thing. We want to create beautiful, hospitable places ... a community that's accepting rather than judgmental," he said.
The day of the fire, Stephen Naramore, owner of Greenwood Sip and Ship, offered to let the Green Bean take over the espresso portion of his business, even though it was a loss of income for him.
"The Green Bean is such an important part of the community, we didn't want to see Greenwood without the Green Bean," Naramore said.
Then a few months ago, the owner of the long-empty McDonald's building offered his site to the Green Bean at below-market cost. Volunteers have come up with donations, from vintage red-vinyl-and-chrome stools to a mural, to a wooden counter, to restaurant supplies.
It's not the first time the community has come together in the wake of the fires.
Residents started the Greenwood Fire Relief Fund in order to raise funds to divide among those who lost money in the fires. The total raised, about $20,000, had to be stretched to help many. The Green Bean took less than its share, Rowland said, because there had been other donations.
The owners of Pho Tic Tac have another restaurant on Aurora Avenue and have decided not to reopen in Greenwood. Those who own CC Teriyaki had the business for only a few weeks when it was destroyed. They couldn't be reached to talk about their plans.
Timur Leno, of the Mediterranean restaurant Olive You, is delighted to be reopening what was his first venture in the restaurant business.
"I always wanted to have my own little place, a place where people feel they're known and recognized — like Cheers. ... I come from Istanbul and I was kind of missing all that."
The fire destroyed his livelihood (at least until he opened a Kirkland location a few weeks ago) and now he plans to run both locations, putting the months of hassling over insurance claims and cleaning up behind him.
Phung Hoang of Szechuan Bistro still thinks about reopening, especially when her former customers beg her.
"I always wanted to own something and run it by myself," she said. The restaurant was her dream, and the morning the phone calls began pouring in at 5 a.m., alerting her to the fire, the dream ended. Like most of the other restaurants, hers was uninsured. She had let the policy lapse months before.
Now she's doing customer relations and bookkeeping for a Vietnamese trading company.
"But I'm not ready yet," she said. "Every time I think about restaurants, I think about the fire. I drive by where my restaurant was and I feel sad."
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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