El Diablo Coffee, a Seattle institution almost two decades old, is being forced to leave their space and find a new home. The coffee shop, located in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, has been serving coffee to their community since 2000. Recently, the building they’ve operated out of for the last 18 years changed hands, and they’ve received notice that they need to vacate the premises by the end of the month. In response, they’ve launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $75,000 in order to cover the gap and keep their workers employed as steadily as possible.
Originally founded by Terri Sullivan, the shop was bought out by Jill Killen, who also owns Cloud City Coffee, in 2010; the original owners were looking to sell and found the ideal buyer in Killen, who was drawn to the space because of its community focus and friendly atmosphere. Over the course of Killen’s tenure there, she’s put a lot of money into improvements, including converting storage space into a kitchen, adding a back patio, upgrading the restrooms, and working to fix the electrical, which is still not reliable. “I’ve put probably $50,000 into the space that I won’t get back—it stays with the space,” she said. Over the last eight years, she’s also had three different landlords, whom she described as absentee. “They just want the space rented, then they sell the building. Rinse and repeat.”
Last year, Killen learned from the building manager that the building had changed hands. When she brought up a new lease agreement to the management company, she tried to negotiate as low a rise as possible due to the repairs she had had to make and some conditions that were still subpar. “I said I didn’t want to pay more without upgrades,” said Killen. “I was already at or above market rate, compared to buildings with new plumbing and new electric.” The management company allegedly reported back to Killen that the new landlords agreed that the electric needed upgrading. “I asked again for a lease,” said Killen. “I asked many times over the spring and summer. They said to hold tight, the electric problem was complicated. I wanted to do upgrades to my space and was waiting to hear back so I could start. Things were falling apart.”
The notice to vacate came on April 2nd, with a deadline of 11:59 pm on April 30th. “The courier handed it to a barista and said ‘this has to be hung in the window.’ My barista called me freaking out. Rent was paid.” After calling the management company and her old landlord, she finally got ahold of the building manager. “After four phone calls, Ben returned my call and said it was true and that this was ‘the hardest part of his job.’ The landlord was doing improvements on the space and El Diablo was in the way.” When Killen asked why the notice was so short, the building manager allegedly responded that he was only required to give 20 days. “He said he didn’t agree with how it was handled, but he was just a broker doing his job and didn’t own the building. He said they wanted to move in a different direction.”
Neither the building manager nor Diablo Coffee’s landlord have responded to Sprudge’s repeated request for comment.
So what’s next for Killen and El Diablo? According to Killen, they just signed a lease on a space that used to house a Mexican restaurant. The shape of the new space, which includes a full-service kitchen and is about three times the size of the old space, will change their service model slightly, but Killen is resilient and ready to see potential changes as positives. “We’ll need an expeditor/delivery person and a system with table numbers, but it will allow us to do other things such as expand our menu,” says Killen. “We had run out of electric amperage and space in the old cafe. Many people left because of seating issues. So there’s lots of positives.” The obvious downside: “The cost of moving is enormous. Between physically disconnecting and moving things we have to build counters, add floor drains, and more.”
Killen is particularly concerned about service disruptions for her staff. “We just need money for the move. We weren’t anticipating this.”
She’s hoping El Diablo has proven its value over time and that the community will continue to invest in their continued existence. “I’ve come to love this neighborhood and our kind neighbors,” Killen tells Sprudge. “We’ve gained so much diversity and it makes me proud to come in and see a variety of clientele. The neighborhood has rallied around us in the past.” She’s hopeful that both the local community and the larger coffee community will lend a hand to keep El Diablo operating. So far, the support has been strong: the campaign is trending on Kickstarter and has raised nearly $20,000 of its $75,000 goal. To help El Diablo manage the gap and keep their employees as secure as possible, you can donate here.
RJ Joseph is a staff writer for Sprudge Media Network. Read more RJ Joseph on Sprudge.
All photos by Neil Oney unless otherwise noted.