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Coffee City

Melissa Allison follows the world's biggest coffee-shop chain and other Seattle caffeine purveyors.

February 23, 2010 at 10:18 AM

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What killed the Seattle coffee cart craze?

Posted by Melissa Allison

BridgetCollins.jpgWhen one of my best coffee sources suggested looking into the dearth of espresso carts in Seattle, I called the Seattle Department of Transportation, which lists just three active permits for sidewalk coffee carts in the whole city.

When I went to visit the carts, the one outside Men's Wearhouse was closed for the winter and the Nordstrom's cart was gone altogether.

Only the cart outside 14 Carrot Cafe on Eastlake Avenue remains year-round. Bridget Collins, a barista there who recently moved from Minnesota, summed up the situation: "It's not minus-20 and snowing here," she said. "I was surprised, considering you can't shake a stick in Seattle without hitting three Starbucks and two independent coffee roasters."

There are more sidewalk carts in the Twin Cities, said Collins (with customer Everette Hungerford in the top photo, by The Seattle Times' Erika Schultz).

Chuck Beek.jpgI'm not talking about kiosks in malls and building lobbies, or the occasional cart on private property, like the one outside REI's flagship store downtown. I mean the espresso carts on sidewalks that used to be a Seattle tradition.

The full story includes interviews with -- among others -- David Schomer, whose venerable Espresso Vivace started as a cart; Dave Stewart, former cart owner and co-founder of Seattle's Best Coffee; and Chuck Beek, who owns Monorail Espresso, which was the city's -- and probably the country's -- first cart.

Beek is pictured in the second photo (also by Erika Schultz) inside the walk-up window that Monorail Espresso became 14 years ago. Bottom photo is the Monorail cart in the early '80s, courtesy of the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Below that is a video of the last year-round coffee cart on a Seattle sidewalk, outside the 14 Carrot Cafe on Eastlake.

The upshot seems to be that coffeehouses and regulations put the carts out of business. What do you think?

Thumbnail image for Monorail80s.jpg

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