EVERETT — The Vintage Cafe’s Facebook post put it this way:
“Believe it or not! 40th Anniversary, same owner, same location … really.”
Owners Jim and Karen Staniford have changed the name of the cafe and the menu over 40 years but it has stayed in the same place at 1510 Hewitt Ave.
In restaurant years, 40 is the new 80.
“This is probably the toughest business there is,” Karen said. “Anybody in the restaurant business can tell you that.”
How’d they do it?
“We have a lot of repeat customers,” Jim said. “That’s really the basis why we lasted.”
That’s not all.
“We go with the flow,” he said.
“I’ve taken this wall up and down three times in the last 40 years because the wife wanted to change something,” he said.
The cafe has evolved over four decades.
It began as a restaurant and bar that Karen opened before she met Jim. She was a single mom with a 14-year-old daughter and food service experience when she persuaded the bank to loan her $16,000.
“That was like the national debt to me,” she said.
The space, which she leased, had been a tavern called The Cave since Prohibition ended.
“I had to do a lot of remodeling,” Karen said. For art, she went to the library and had a bunch of photos of historic downtown Everett scenes blown up poster-size at a copy shop.
She called her place The Alley.
“There was an opening into the alley. Back in those days you couldn’t have a front door directly into a cocktail lounge. We had to create kind of a hallway,” she said.
She was undaunted by the risk or challenge of going from managing a restaurant to owning one.
“Back in the day, in 1976, downtown was still downtown,” she said. “This was a very vibrant area. Five years later, not so much. Everybody went to the mall.”
By then, Jim was in the picture as her husband and right-hand man with a hammer.
“I do all the maintenance and repairs,” he said. “The wife does all the bookwork.”
In the early 1980s, they revamped The Alley and called it Aaron’s, after their grandson.
“It was basically a bar with pool tables and game room,” Karen said. “It ends up being survival. You do what you have to do to survive.”
It stayed Aaron’s until a remodel in 2002, when they took away the game tables and renamed it Vintage Cafe with the focus on dining and cocktails that remains today. The expansive menu has everything from pancakes and burgers to chocolate ganache and mulligan stew. There is seating for 72, in addition to a banquet room.
Around 2000, the couple bought the two-story building, known as the Hove Building, which was built in the 1890s and housed various businesses and an upstairs hotel over the years.
Now that hotel space is their home. They live above the cafe.
It shares an adjoining wall with the building next to it, which they bought in 2002 and also restored. It is leased to Home Inspirations, a marketplace with 20 gift, vintage and antique vendors. Karen has a booth there.
There’s a cafe and collectibles at her fingertips. “It’s everything I envisioned,” she said.
Jim’s other passion is also downtown: he’s an avid Silvertips fan and so are their four great-grandsons, 13, 10, 4 and 2.
“I bought a four-door new truck so I could take my boys to the hockey games,” he said. The truck is wrapped in Silvertips logos.
In front of the cafe is a black-and-white sidewalk marquee that often says “Fish and Chips.”
“When we take it off, my fish sales go down,” Jim said. “It’s one of the few readerboards that’s still allowed. It was grandfathered in. You can’t hang a sign over the sidewalk like that anymore.”
The couple at one time also owned three other restaurants around Everett.
They learned from their mistakes.
“We print our own menus,” Jim said. “Years ago we had the menus at the Silver Lake cafe laminated. The second table the new menu went to, the customer said, ‘You’ve got a misspelled word.’ Tartar sauce was spelled wrong. So from then on we never laminated menus.”
The couple’s granddaughter, Amber Lang, began as a busgirl at age 15 and is the Vintage Cafe manager.
On the exposed brick walls are 15 of the same historic prints that Karen had made in 1976 for The Alley, depicting scenes such as a streetcar, fire station and The Everett Herald.
The sameness, the service and the food is the draw.
“The whole demeanor brings us back. You feel comfortable being here,” said Everett resident Don Skraitz, who often gets breakfast at lunch, along with a martini. “We love the staff.”
The servings are large but the prices aren’t, said another lunch regular, Christie Masterson of Mill Creek.
“The portions are big enough to share,” she said. “We shared the fish and chips and oftentimes we share the dips.”
One thing that isn’t shared: cocktails. “I’m partial to the Southern Peach,” she said.
Andrea Brown at 425-339-3443; email@example.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
1510 Hewitt Ave., Everett; 425-252-8224; www.thevintagecafe.net.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m Saturday. Happy Hour, 3 to 6 p.m. daily.
Home Inspirations: 1502 Hewitt Ave.
The Hove Building was designed by Charles Hove in the early 1890s. The exterior walls are four bricks thick. The main floor had various businesses over the last 120-plus years, including a photo and art shop and a saloon. The adjoining storefront was a barber shop and The Olympic Café.
The Royal Hotel on the second floor originally housed 12 sleeping rooms. Two suites in the front corners had coal burning fireplaces and large luxury sleeping quarters. When the Monte Cristo Hotel was built in 1925, The Royal Hotel was converted into apartments.
During Prohibition, the Cave Ice Cream and Confection Store survived the times. After Prohibition, The Cave became one of the first licensed taverns in downtown Everett and continued until 1976 when it became The Alley, then Aaron’s and what is now Vintage Cafe.
Source: Vintage Cafe