Spotlight: Capitol Hill Cafe

A closer look at the location that started it all.

Located on Summit Avenue in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Top Pot’s inaugural cafe is still as popular as it was when it first opened its doors in 2002.

I remember my first visit to this location, which was years before I eventually joined the Top Pot team. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves covered the walls, good music floated through the sweet smelling air, while crisp fall sunlight shone in the store front windows. Although I had never been there before, I felt right at home.

Mark and Mike Klebeck had no idea what was in store when they decided to open a doughnut and coffee shop on Capitol Hill. In fact, even the name “Top Pot” was a happy accident.

From the Top Pot cookbook, Hand-Forged Doughnuts:

“In 1996, a few years after we’d opened a coffee shop called Zeitgeist in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, we found a giant neon sign from a defunct Chinese restaurant that read “TOPSPOT.” We bought it for $400 and stored it in our mother’s backyard in North Seattle for five years, where is slowly began succumbing to rust and raccoons.

“Then we hit upon the idea of opening a doughnut shop, making them by hand rather than depending on the machines the large, increasingly popular doughnut shops were using. Following the same design philosophy we captured at Zeitgeist, and before that at another coffee shop called Bauhaus, we decided to name our new place Top Spot and to front it with the rickety old neon sign. Before becoming coffee entrepreneurs, we had been general contractors, and between us, we had years of experience in remodeling, building cabinetry, and designing restaurant spaces. So we built out the cafe ourselves, pouring the terrazzo floors and building the bookcases–now a signature trimming at Top Pot’s cafes–one shelf at a time. But the day we drove the sign down Interstate 5 in Michael’s 1966 Ford F-100, there was a rattle and a loud clink as the “S” fell off the rusty old sign–and Top Pot Doughnuts was born.” — Mark Klebeck and Michael Klebeck with Jess Thomson, Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker (Chronicle Books, 2011)

From those first fateful days, Top Pot Summit took off and became a staple of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I’ve had the opportunity to work at that location and there really is something indefinably special about it. Customers can spend hours in the lobby working on their computers and sipping lattes without being disturbed, thanks to the positive and laid back vibe.

And yet, there is a thriving community woven into the fabric of the store. Customers fall into easy conversation with each other and the staff. It truly is a place where “everybody knows your name.”

No cafe would be complete without a nod to the staff. They are the ones that not only keep the  cafe ticking, but they are also responsible for the tone of the store. Some of the Summit staff have been working for Top Pot (and working at the Summit location) for ten years. The store is like a second home for them and their investment shows.

I asked Julie, a long-time staff member at the store, why she loves her place of work. I think her answers sums it up nicely:

” It’s cozy, a little retro, and funky.  From an aesthetic standpoint,  its got an old-school coffee shop vibe, and newcomers always comment on it.  But the real reason its so great, is that the customers are neighborhood people who we have had the opportunity to get to know over many years.  We appreciate the familiarity and all the fun conversation we get to have every day.  And they seem to love us and genuinely appreciate the service we give them!”

Have you visited our first location? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below.