Mount Baker is Seattle's hidden oasis of a neighborhood, and the Rose Club Cafe is the cool drink of water waiting there. With its 100-year-old salvaged Douglas fir benches, ever-rotating local art on its walls, and 1930s Hobart mixer in the kitchen (one of two in the state!), the Rose Club stands on its quiet, parklike corner in diametric opposition to all things chain, all things corporate.
And so does its food—ask any of the regulars waiting at 6:30 a.m., helping staff set up tables. Be it a lovely sticky pastry in the morning, a grilled veggie pita for lunch, or rum-soaked pork loin and sweet potatoes at dinner, ingredients are as fresh as can be, grown responsibly or organically when possible, and prepared with love.
Providing a community hangout is at least as important as making money—thus, events like live music from loopy novelty act the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, art openings with discounts on wine and beer, and quarterly clothing swaps where the profits from the evening's food sales are donated to women's shelters. And there's the planned pizza delivery on vintage bicycles. And hosting regular meetings for the Service Board, which combines kids, snowboarding, and community service. And half-price pizzas and bottles of wine on Mondays (it's Ladies Night, but that's in honor of the ladies, so everyone gets the nice price). And there's plenty more to come—check out the monthly e-mail newsletter (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up).
Co-founders Kimberly Robinson and Tammy Watson, along with chef Gina Schmierer and a remarkably committed waitstaff, have obviously worked hard to realize their ideal over the last year—so how's it going? We cornered Kimberly during one of her 14-hour days to find out.
Seattle Weekly: What made you want to open your own place?
Kimberly Robinson: We have a real vision—we want the antithesis of a big restaurant. There's philanthropic reasons and community involvement. We wanted the space to be environmentally sound, with consciously farmed food. I have high standards for staff; it's really important to me that everyone is directly accountable. Tammy and I met for a year, comparing notes, talking about what we wanted.
So how has the menu evolved from those ideas?
We use local purveyors and buy in very small quantities. The menu changes about every three months, with different specials every night. In the beginning, I'd be zooming down Rainier with a salmon from Mutual Fish strapped to my old motorcycle on my way to get some more vegetables from Mekong Market—sort of hunting and gathering my way through town. The breads and pastries are house-made, and we have lots of vegetarian meals.
And the decor?
When we took over, it was filled with beach balls and splatter paint. We took everything out and worked with a carpenter to design the benches with this great old Douglas fir we salvaged. We have an art opening pretty much every month; we don't take a percentage like galleries, so the artists are happy to be here. Almost all the equipment is old, original stuff—spending beyond our means is not an option, so we fix what we've got and waste as little as possible.
Have things changed for you since Seattle's economy tanked?
After Sept. 11, our weekday business was cut in half, but our dinners really increased— I think people started economizing in some ways so they could really treat themselves. It was scary, but since we hadn't overextended ourselves, I just sent other staff home and worked seven days a week. I'm still the lead server.
What's the best thing about being a proud owner?
Our neighborhood is fiercely loyal—when a chain coffee roaster showed up at a community event, our customers really gave 'em a "shame on you" for even being there! One night, our chef was called out and given a huge round of applause, and a while back, when our old Hobart mixer broke, a regular was able to fix it after we'd been told it was unsalvageable.
What's next for the Rose Club?
Mount Baker doesn't have a place that delivers pizza; I've heard a rumor that Domino's does, but I don't really consider that food. So a friend and I are designing a vintage-inspired bike with a special rack for salads and pizza—pretty limited delivery area and weather-dependent, but I love those vintage beach cruiser bikes—it's going to look so cool. We're sponsoring, with Victrola [cafe on Capitol Hill], a big all-vintage ride in May—bands, beer, and bikes! We're also planning a brewer's night here in June—it looks like we'll have Hale's, Lunar, Maritime, and Elysian bringing in a few kegs. At some point, we'll look into getting a full bar; in the meantime, I'm thinking of some special wine-tasting dinners. In August, we're planning a great women's art collective show.
And in those few minutes when you're not working, where do you like to eat?
Mmm. Mona's was a big inspiration for me. I love Stella Pizza in Georgetown, and La Medusa for Sicilian—it's over in Columbia City. Top Gun in the I.D. has the most awesome servers—they just run like mad!
The Rose Club Cafe
3601 S. McClellan, 725-3654
breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day (except no dinner Tues.)