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.”