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Originally published Friday, July 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Retail Report

Seattle's Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting is expanding

Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting is buying more coffee beans directly from growers from around the world as a result of its One Pot project dinners.

Seattle Times business reporters

Michael McConnell, the founder and majority owner of Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting, has a lot on his plate.

He opened Pike Street Fish Fry this spring with his friend Michael Hebberoy and is about to open his third Via Tribunali pizzeria this month in Georgetown.

Still, McConnell finds time to host dinners for employees, customers and friends when he and Hebberoy return from trips to coffee-growing countries.

The pair have traveled to Guatemala, Brazil and Ethiopia during the past year. As part of his One Pot project that is based in Seattle, Hebberoy organizes dinners with coffee farmers and others involved in the coffee industry.

"We bring people together for conversation and coffee and food," said McConnell, whose cafe empire includes a roasteria on Capitol Hill, four coffee shops in Seattle and one in Olympia.

The result is that Caffé Vita buys less coffee through importers. About a third of its coffee now comes directly from farmers or brokers working with farms that Vita knows, up from about a tenth before the One Pot dinners started last year.

Unexpected connections happen during the trips, like an itinerary change in Guatemala after they met a coffee grower at one of the big dinners they held.

"We headed straight over to Alex Keller's farm and are now receiving four containers a year from him, depending on the harvest," Hebberoy said. That's roughly 200,000 pounds of coffee a year. "The birdsong on the coffee farm was deafening. It felt more like a forest than a coffee plantation."

In Ethiopia, they were invited to someone's house for a three- to four-hour traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. "It was cool," McConnell said. "There are pictures on the Web site."

Two sites document their travels, and both are linked from CaffeVita.com. One of the sites is VitaOnePot.blogspot.com, which is written by Hebberoy, who used to own two restaurants and a private dining room in Portland.

One restaurant went bankrupt in 2006, and Hebberoy was publicly raked over the coals by one of his former chefs and others. He says he has paid off his debts from that time.

Now, through One Pot, Hebberoy writes about food, holds food-related art exhibits and helps McConnell host dinners bringing together coffee roasters, growers and customers.

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— Melissa Allison

Tidbits

Espresso Vivace Roasteria on East Denny Way will close Sunday night to make way for a Sound Transit station. In early September, a new Vivace will open a few blocks north at the new Brix location in the 500 block of Broadway East, said Vivace founder David Schomer.

"It'll be a beautiful tribute to the roasteria," Schomer said, including some stones from the current store's coffee bar. — MA

Talbots Woman's store in Bellevue Square is closing Tuesday night and reopening Wednesday morning in the second-floor space next to the main Talbots store. — Becky Bisbee

Starbucks is the country's third-largest restaurant company, according to a ranking by the National Retail Federation's Stores Magazine. Only McDonald's and Yum! Brands had more revenue in 2007. MA

Walker-Poinsett Antiques at 1405 Fifth Ave. is closing July 24 after 29 years of selling traditional antiques in Seattle. — Becky Bisbee

Jones Soda has released a new four-pack of bottles with images of skateboarder Tony Hawk. The Seattle soda company is a sponsor of Hawk's Boom Boom HuckJam tour, which started in 2002 and includes other well-known skateboarders. Jones' street team will accompany the tour around the country, beginning in San Antonio on July 18.

Jones Soda will launch a new promotion with these bottles, allowing customers to win prizes by text messaging a code found under their bottle caps. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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Retail Report is a look at the trends, issues and people who makeup the dynamic and versatile retail sector throughout the Puget Sound region. Every Friday with Melissa Allison and Amy Martinez. Send tips or comments to mallison@seattletimes.com or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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