Coffee, candy and more — splashy Rock City takes over Everett corner

Jill and Christopher Dayton started Rock City Espresso during the recession. It failed miserably in Las Vegas. So they returned to Snohomish County and gave it another try. (Jim Davis/HBJ)

Jill and Christopher Dayton started Rock City Espresso during the recession. It failed miserably in Las Vegas. So they returned to Snohomish County and gave it another try. (Jim Davis/HBJ)

EVERETT — The flash of color catches the eye driving near Silver Lake: Tangerine orange, bright blue and a bubblegum pink.

That’s what it’s supposed to do.

Three businesses with the splashy colored buildings are the brainchild of Christopher and Jill Dayton. They started with Rock City Espresso, added Rock City Cuts and just opened Rock City Sweet Shop with its giant lollipop sign.

The colors of the three separate buildings are supposed to give the Rock City business hub at 1831 Silver Lake Road a retro-skater feel.

It’s been a long journey for the Daytons, who are originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, but who moved to the Puget Sound area in 2003.

Christopher Dayton, 50, was working in mortgage and real estate before the recession. He knew that his job wasn’t going to last.

He could see that people were being frugal as the recession started, but saw that people still treated themselves to an occasional latte. So the couple decided to try their hand at the trend of hand-roasted espresso in a new market: Las Vegas.

“I came up with the name on the way out to Vegas,” he said about the Rock City brand.

A drummer in his spare time for a Christian rock band, Christopher felt the name would be a play off his Christian faith and his love of music. He opened a Rock City espresso stand in Las Vegas in 2008.

It flopped. Hard.

They moved back to the Puget Sound area within months, where Christopher started selling espresso out of the back of his truck, in a 5-by-4-foot trailer.

“It was small. There was just enough room for the syrups and coffee, and one person to make the coffee,” Christopher said.

He started toting the cart to soccer games, and approached the Safeway at 11031 19th Ave. SE, Everett, near Silver Lake about using their parking lot to sell coffee. They agreed. The stand became a hit.

“It was amazing,” Christopher said. “[Las Vegas] was such a massive failure. We moved back and it just took off.”

As the customer base grew, Christopher was approached about moving the stand to Silverlake Commons.

Despite a short move to Snohomish, Rock City Espresso has been able to grow its customer base. They returned to the Silverlake Commons early in January 2016, and took over the barber shop. The sweet shop opened in August.

“We’ve had couples who have had their first dates [at our stand], gotten married, had a kid,” said Christopher of his customers. “It adds a different dimension to your life. You’re not in a cubicle. You become a different person – it makes your life more colorful.”

Color is a big thing at the Rock City corner.

For the candy shop, Jill said they wanted a “bright, happy pink,” and interior garnishes of lemon yellow to evoke sweets like taffy, pastilles, and baked sundries.

The shop was initially soft-launched in August, but as of late October the snug shack has been replaced by a larger pink trailer with a wheelchair-accessible ramp.

It was a necessity to Christopher — he talked about the limited space of the original shack, and how sometimes people would have to stand outside in the rain while their family members browsed. It just wasn’t the experience he wanted.

The businesses employ four, but the Daytons’ older kids, Julian, 19, and Claire, 16, lend a hand. The younger ones, Audrey, 12, and Ethan, 10, are also around. Ethan is the Sweet Shop’s official taste tester.

The Daytons found ways to build their Jelly Belly inventory into a microbrewer’s twist: they had acquired a collection of Jelly Belly’s draft-beer-flavored beans.

Bagged into titles like “Chocolate Stout” and “Sangria,” the non-alcoholic mixes are definitely marketed towards the adults who may swing by the store rather than younger customers.

There’s plenty of other treats for all ages, though. Mint-malted milk balls, peach rings, saltwater taffy and other bulk candy.

Christopher waxed poetic when asked about his decision to open the candy store.

“It’s like my father used to say, ‘There are two places that people will always have a smile on their face, regardless of the country or culture — and that is ice cream stores and candy stores. Even for just two minutes out of your day.’”

Determined to keep building reasons for customers to head to their corner, Christopher is looking to add a food truck to the property. What advice does he have for other entrepreneurs: “Gather as much information as you can from business owners. Not textbooks. Write down as much as you can. Ask lots of questions.”

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