Charlestown Café followup: Day after the closure announcement

March 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm | In Charlestown Cafe, West Seattle news, West Seattle restaurants | 33 Comments

West Seattle journalist Kathy Mulady has reported on the Charlestown Street Café‘s ups and downs over the past five years, for the Seattle P-I and for WSB. Following up on our Sunday report of the café’s imminent closure, she went there today to cover the first day since the bad news hit.

(Café owner Ron Hanlon and longtime staffer Shavaun Bartlett)
Story and photos by Kathy Mulady
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Ron Hanlon is done, and so is the Charlestown Street Café he has owned for more than 30 years.

Customers strolling in for their regular breakfast or lunch today were stunned by the note on the door announcing that the restaurant that has been so much a part of their lives will be closing for good at 3 p.m. next Sunday, April 3 (as reported here yesterday morning).

Hanlon said he will stay open long enough to serve a final meal to the after-church crowd, but that’s it. There will be no last-minute rescue this time.

“It’s very sad. This has been a community gathering spot for a long time. The landlord wants to move on,” said Hanlon. “A long-term lease for us is out of the question.”

The last four years have been a roller coaster for Hanlon and his regulars.

The business survived threats of demolition, a kitchen fire that closed the restaurant for four months, and was finally done in by a sour economy that refuses to rebound.

“The bottom fell out of the economy and we never recovered,” said Hanlon, who turned 65 this year, but insists he isn’t ready to retire.

Just a few weeks ago he bought new chairs for the restaurant, thinking that he would keep going.

He told the staff a week ago that the restaurant will close.

“I agonized over the decision for a year,” he said. “I am exhausted.”

Hanlon started in West Seattle 32 years ago at the White Spot at SW Alaska and Fauntleroy Way SW. His loyal customers followed him when he opened Webster’s on California, and later to the Charlestown Street Café.

Waitresses Hesper Guerra and Tama Warrior have worked with Hanlon for 20 years each, since they were in high school. They talked about taking over the restaurant, but the economy, needed building repairs, and the month-to-month lease made it too risky financially.

“Maybe Hesper and I will reopen another place with this same feel and a long lease sometime in the future,” said Tama, who is known to some customers and staff as “Mama Charlestown.”

“It breaks my heart to think of what might happen to some of our elderly customers who come in all the time, where will they go?” Warrior wondered.

Families and friends have celebrated and commiserated over breakfast, lunch and dinners here for generations. It’s common to see three or more generations of a family walk in the door. And Hanlon knows them all.

The Charlestown Street Cafe is one of the rare centrally located West Seattle restaurants with its own spacious parking lot.

Karen Rice and her brother Don Rice of West Seattle were among Hanlon’s first customers. The Rices still meet at the café for breakfast weekly, sometimes several times a week.

“All the food is good,” they said, finishing up plates of biscuits and gravy.

“I like the service, all the guys and gals who work here are great,” said Karen Rice.

They looked at each other in sad silence when asked where they will meet for breakfast when the Charlestown is done.

“I really don’t know,” said Karen.

Rob Hendricks, sitting on a stool at the counter, said he really isn’t sure where he will go either. He’s been coming to the Charlestown for 15 years. It is the good food and good service that keeps bringing him back, too.

He thought when the café reopened after the fire that it would be around for a good long time.

“I thought we had skated by,” he said. “I have no clue where I will go when it closes.”

33 Comments

  1. I am goin to miss the Ham and Cheddar omelete. This place has top-notch service

    Comment by JB — 10:17 pm March 28, 2011 #

  2. My son loves there breakfast. He’s a picky eater and always eats there and cleans his plate. Now what do I feed him??

    Comment by Mindy Bowler — 10:25 pm March 28, 2011 #

  3. Oh, that’s heartbreaking about where their older customers will go now. The servers were always soooo good to them.

    And, where will I find buckwheat pancakes? :(

    Comment by westseattledood — 10:32 pm March 28, 2011 #

  4. sounds like the landlord isn’t giving many options?

    Comment by Paul — 11:56 pm March 28, 2011 #

  5. Noo!

    Comment by Herman — 12:47 am March 29, 2011 #

  6. I have two very loyal Mickey Mouse pancake eaters who are going to be incredibly sad to return home from China in May, and discover their beloved restaurant closed. We’ve been making the 2-block walk to the restaurant since moving to West Seattle almost 7 years ago. The pancakes, chowder, curry chicken salad, balloons, coloring pages, friendly wait staff and familiar neighborhood faces will all be missed. I’m so sorry to hear they have to close. :(

    Comment by Carrie Ann — 2:40 am March 29, 2011 #

  7. And with it goes a little of West Seattle identity. I am dreading finding out what big box cookie cutter retail chain ends taking over the space. :(

    Comment by eastwest — 7:15 am March 29, 2011 #

  8. Yes, it sounds like it is the landlord that will not renew the lease. Look for 4-5 cheaply built townhouses by the end of the year.

    Comment by Rower — 7:22 am March 29, 2011 #

  9. Dood, I second that all the way!!! Where will the seniors go??:( :( We need a totally unhip cafe in west seattle where you will see that exact crowd you see at The CC / babies to seniors. Party of one or parties of 12. Sad sad sad. I remember when it was Websters, my sunday school teachers would sometimes take me there after church.

    Comment by cclarue — 8:18 am March 29, 2011 #

  10. So sad to see this place shut down. We went there for Thanksgiving dinner last year, completely spur of the moment. It was fantastic, and not just the food. The atmosphere, staff, and overall happiness of everyone that was present.

    We will miss you terribly, but plan to stop by before April 3rd!

    Comment by sassy — 8:46 am March 29, 2011 #

  11. Rower, we reported in our Sunday story that a development proposal for a mixed-use residential/commercial building had been floated through initial stages at DPD about nine months ago. We are still checking on whether that proposal shows any signs of activity, as there are no newer dates on the city’s online file than June 2010, that we could see – TR

    Comment by WSB — 8:53 am March 29, 2011 #

  12. This makes me so sad. We’ve been going to breakfast every weekend for years, now we don’t know what we’ll do! We love the staff and have gotten to know them all so well… they even know our orders by heart. Man, just so sad to hear.

    Comment by Jaina — 9:03 am March 29, 2011 #

  13. Well this opens a niche, at least, for a new diner to come to our area. Not sure where to go unless it’s some dive in WC/Burien.

    Comment by sydney — 9:13 am March 29, 2011 #

  14. They should go help the Heartland cafe- they’d benefit from some tastier items- like Charlestown’s buckwheat pancakes!

    Comment by Lorelee — 10:05 am March 29, 2011 #

  15. It’s not like this was the only place in WS to get breakfast that has parking. Lorelee mentioned Heartland. The Highstrike is open for breakfast on the weekends. Circa is still there and I’ve never had a problem finding parking. Endolyne Joes has fantatic breakfast with their own parking, as does Eats Market Cafe in Westwood Village. I’m missing a ton of places that serve breakfast that are as equally convenient as Charlestown. Yes, they’ll be missed and nobody likes change, but for petesakes it’s not the end of the world and I’m pretty sure most “seniors” are industrious and hardy enough to figure out how to find a new location to frequent.

    Comment by Tony S — 11:26 am March 29, 2011 #

  16. Sad to see this place go…but, the food was never that good. It is made for the majority of the customers, and that is the senior citizens with no taste buds. Still sad to see it go though, now where will I eat when I’m 80 years old?

    Comment by monroe1200 — 11:37 am March 29, 2011 #

  17. This is bad news!! And I too feel bad for all the seniors who really had a nice niche there…Where will they go? Those “unhip” comfortable places for older people are hard to find….God help us if we see more cheap looking boxy townhouses go up there or some ugly pet store!! Hope someone has a good idea!

    Comment by meto — 11:38 am March 29, 2011 #

  18. We’ll miss Hester the most. She’s the best!!

    Comment by artsea — 1:31 pm March 29, 2011 #

  19. I think it should be mentioned for the people who are saying the seniors will find another place that Charlestown had a SENIOR menu with senior prices. It’s clear that the people who are saying ‘ah move on’ have no idea about Charlestown’s menu. Also they seem to have no idea that this is more than food for seniors its a place for them to gather and not feel alone. It’s much more than the food and some of these comments show that these people never frequented this place. I will miss them mainly for their incredible dedication to good, fast, family-oriented service. None of the other places mentioned above hold the unique way with which this place was run – its was much more than the food.

    Comment by ! — 3:25 pm March 29, 2011 #

  20. So sad! But don’t forget about Luna Park Cafe on avalon way. They also have yummy mickey mouse pancakes and other amazing menu choices and the ladies that work there are all so nice.

    Comment by breezygirl — 3:27 pm March 29, 2011 #

  21. Chelan Cafe is a worthy alternative also. West Seattle has many good alternatives. Try finding breakfast in Factoria, they have nothing open early…

    Comment by Bob — 5:04 pm March 29, 2011 #

  22. How heartbreaking~~~The Charlestown has the absolute best pancakes around–anywhere!

    Comment by Jill — 6:39 pm March 29, 2011 #

  23. Joes Grill, Godfathers Pizza, Pizza Hut, Shakey’s Pizza, Vanns, Mr.Ed’s, Ben Bow Inn, Herfy’s, Royal Fork, Arby’s, Guadalajara Grill, New Luck Toy, Ragazzi’s Help me out West Seattle what am I missing, I’m in my 30′s.

    Comment by DF — 7:19 pm March 29, 2011 #

  24. Yes ! you are so right. Some times seniors come in alone and look at the Charlestown staff like family! It may be the only conversation they have all day long! That staff helps them to their cars and have even delivered food to their house when unable to get out and about. It wasn’t only for seniors, they treat all their customers that way! So you are so right is MUCH MORE THAN FOOD!!!! Lets also not forget that there are lots of people that are losing their jobs! Some of them have been there for 20 years and more! So If there is nothing nice to say, just keep it to yourself! Good luck to all involved!

    Comment by jw — 7:54 pm March 29, 2011 #

  25. So sad… We’ve been going for 20plus years starting when they were just Websters on SW Calif and on Pill Hill.

    We had last meal last night and all were so sad with our 11 and nearly 5 yearold… Saw so many other patrons doing the same. Our sons are so sad.. :-( We always celebrate birthdays and other special days there… (first…last days of school, etc ). When we left all including the servers who have watched our sons from pregnancy to today … were in tears. We will miss everyone and all the meals!

    Comment by PDH — 8:02 pm March 29, 2011 #

  26. Ah darn! We used to go to Charlestown with my mom (who has since passed away) when my boys were small. They’d color pictures and put her name and age on them :) My youngest is now 18 and for his 18th birthday dinner, he wanted to go to Charlestown Cafe! My mom would meet her lady friends there every Saturday and the staff always knew just where they wanted to sit, what they liked, didn’t like, etc. It’s a great place for seniors and we always eat there when we’re in WS. I will miss going there for the memories as well as the food.

    Comment by Jeannie — 9:46 pm March 29, 2011 #

  27. Kathy Mulady is a great reporter. Glad she is reporting here.

    Comment by Tom Rasmussen — 9:56 pm March 29, 2011 #

  28. DF – the Menu, Millie’s Cafe, Pizza Pete and Groucho’s. All great places, all gone. Oh, and Gil’s too, though that was a bit before my time.

    Comment by Wayne — 10:18 pm March 29, 2011 #

  29. I’ve never cried over a restaurant but this closing news actually brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for the good memories Ron!!!

    Comment by Linda — 9:19 am March 30, 2011 #

  30. I could not believe what I was reading…..you will be greatly missed. We loved being so close, just down the street from you….yummy food and affordable prices…best of luck to you Ron, and to a great staff.

    Comment by So Sad — 4:26 pm March 30, 2011 #

  31. I have lived across the street from the Charlestown for almost 2 years. They are always busy but since the announcement they have been packed. So sad, like a week-long wake. My parents come twice a year from Texas, and they are devastated. They don’t feel like they have arrived in Seattle until they’ve had a cup of chowder, coffee, and visited with the staff. It’s one of the few places my Dad can walk to anymore. It will be odd on Monday – I’m usually waking up at the same time as the Charlestown… Best of luck to everyone there and especially all the older folks who I know will miss the community the cafe provides.

    Comment by Ladyblahblah — 6:41 pm March 30, 2011 #

  32. Finding a new restaurant for seniors isn’t easy. I am sure many are like my 84yo mother, who can’t drive anymore, so the Charlestown was on the bus line for her! Although at 84, she even likes Easy Street for breakfast! And don’t forget when Pearl had the diner next to the Admiral Theater (sorry, I just always called it Pearl’s like my parents did!)

    Comment by pjk — 7:20 am April 1, 2011 #

  33. I used to work there and I must say I miss working there,,I really miss the customers,,especially carol and George.. this is really sad,and yes,,we try to give the best service even when we were busy as heck…memories..

    Comment by used to work there.. — 10:40 pm April 1, 2011 #

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