An Independent Closes

On Dining: Coffee Messiah grinds to a halt and Fish Club catches a new chef

A local coffee shop in Seattle closed down. The business just wasn't there for the new owners of Coffee Messiah. When I would walk past, there were usually decent crowds, but that isn't always the most reliable indicator of success.

It wasn't one of my regular haunts. I've gotten coffee to go there, but personally never felt comfortable hanging out in the cafe.

The shop was decorated in a lot of black with crosses and crucifixes everywhere. It's been a while since I've been there, but the decor didn't strike me so much as alternative as it did blasphemous. It seemed to be not so much a secular place as an anti-religion place. It was too "in your face" for me. The agresivness of it seemed wrong. A lot of people felt comfortable there; I was not one of them.

It had a strong counter-culture, anti-corporate, revolutionary, and alternative feel. It did not seem to be the best place for me to sit down wearing my business casual clothes, pull out my notebook, and get some work done for a large multi-national corporation.

It's a tight market. There are lots of great coffee places near by. Two of my favorites are the Bauhaus and the Starbucks up the hill.

The Bauhaus has an eclectic clientele that reflects the diversity of the Capitol Hill. They have free WiFi, a loft with ancient tables, and a wall lined with books. A wall covered with books is instantly relaxing. There are a lot of college students working independently or with one other person. The coffee is great, the staff is nice, the music is interesting, the bandwidth is good, the view of the Space Needle is nice, and the people watching is fantastic.

The Starbucks up the hill is one of the largest in the area. It has different kind of crowd. There are more high school students working on projects, or college students working in groups. There are business meetings and interviews taking place, but they are usually for community support organizations of some sort. The clientele is older. The staff is friendly, and the coffee is as good as Starbucks gets.

There are plenty of other great shops within a mile, including Cafe Ladro, Uptown Espresso, Cafe Vivace, and Dilletante.

I imagine people will blame Starbucks for the fall of Coffee Messiah. People may accuse Starbucks of running the little guy out of business. The thing is, though, that most of the time, Starbucks is not the cheapest in an area. They compete by offering coffee that people prefer, and an environment more people like. The smaller shops that have sprung up over the past decade or two owe their existence to Starbucks, for creating demand for high-quality coffees. If Starbucks isn't competing on price, they must be competing on something else. That something else is why they are successful.

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