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The Flora Bakehouse

A surprise café

Café Flora, Seattle's mainstay vegetarian restaurant, opened in 1991. Floret, their vegetarian café at Seattle International Airport opened in 2018. Nat Stratton-Clarke purchased Café Flora in September 2008. It shouldn't be a surprise that whatever the Flora team puts their minds to becomes a success. Yet The Flora Bakehouse surprised everyone in several ways.

Owner Nat Stratton-Clarke, Belathee Photography

"We weren't looking to start something new," recalls Nat. "It came out of necessity. We'd always had a pastry team at Café Flora. Then our airport location became popular and we had a pastry team there. The demand grew us out of our kitchen space. We started looking for a place to use as a commissary kitchen, where the two teams could come together, and be equidistant between Floret and Café Flora. A location came up in Beacon Hill which was halfway between our two locations. The building had been a number of things over the year, restaurants like a burger and pinball spot in the '70s. After we opened a woman stopped in who had been a counter girl scooping ice cream in the '60s. It's been fun to talk to people who went to Cleveland High School, less than a block away, who remember what was here."

They purchased the building with the intent of creating a kitchen to supply Café Flora and Floret. "The very first day, people were knocking on the door asking if they could get a cinnamon roll and coffee!" Nat recalls. "It's a sweet neighborhood and the demand was there, so we decided to expand by building a café with a rooftop area. Construction began in early December 2019 with the foundation poured in March 2020. And that was the end of that. The pandemic hit; we had to wait. Floret at the airport closed. We started takeaway at Café Flora. The parking lot became our outdoor patio. We added a tent. We started a marketplace. We've done a Mother's Day Brunch for 30 years at Flora, but that year it was all to-go. We thought, 'well, that's the only time we'll see that!' and then we had a to-go Thanksgiving, Christmas, and it kept going." Nat's extremely grateful for their customers. "They kept us going. People came from near and far to support us."

Construction on The Flora Bakehouse stopped until August 2020. It started up, but because of pandemic restrictions, only one person could be in at a time. So if the electrician was there, the plumber wasn't. "What should have taken three months took six," says Nat. "We opened in January 2021. We didn't think it was good timing. It's when people give things up after the holidays, like sugar, or they go on vacation. We were still in a pandemic, and we were in a tiny neighborhood. Who would come?"

Photo courtesy of The Flora Bakehouse

That was the next surprise. "On the first day, we opened at 7 a.m. I was in at 5 to get the case ready. Right at 7, someone was there, and then someone was behind them. I didn't look up until about 9:30 a.m. and someone said not to worry, everyone in line is happy. I thought 'what line?' and stepped out behind the building to look. The line was over a block long and it was the happiest line you've every seen. People hadn't seen each other in ages, and they were so happy to talk. I'd had windows put in the kitchen and Dutch doors inside so there would be engagement with these artisan bakers. You still find both adults and kids plastered to the window." They sold out in three hours. Nat went out and apologized to those in line; they said they'd come back the next day. And it's grown from there.

The rooftop deck opened in July 2021. "This is our first spring and it's been successful. We've added breakfast sandwiches and savory things. The rooftop has a view of Mount Rainier. We have natural wine and other beverages. People are asking for more savory items, so that's expanding.

"It's a surprise to us that we went from a kitchen to a full-day café in response to the neighborhood. People love to come in the morning for espresso and pastry or a breakfast sandwich. Kids from Cleveland High School come in the afternoon for Italian sodas and a cookie. We know the teachers who come in on their breaks. We did a fundraiser for the Cleveland prom, and a Teacher Appreciation Day for Maple Elementary. Late afternoon, people come in for a glass of wine and a baguette sandwich. Fortunate Orchard does our flowerpots; many of the flowers are edible and get used in the kitchen."

There are over 20 people in the kitchen at The Flora Bakehouse, led by Head Baker Lesley Pettigrew. Another surprise is that Executive Chef Janine Doran (a Cleveland High graduate) who started working at Café Flora around 1992 is now at The Flora Bakehouse.

Photo courtesy of The Flora Bakehouse

"We're a little surprised by the popularity, but we've eased into it. When we opened, Cleveland High School was doing remote learning; now they're back. Our goal with anything new is to connect it back to Café Flora, but each spot has a unique menu, and we bring the same ethos to each. As we head into summer, we may move our Bakehouse closing hour to 7 or 8 p.m. so people can watch the sunset and the mountain over a cheese plate and wine. It's been a tough two years; we all deserve to sit still and have a moment. Enjoy the day."

 

Connie Adams/June 2022

The Flora Bakehouse
1511 S Lucile St
Seattle, WA 98108
206-762-0418

Café Flora
2901 E Madison St
Seattle, WA 98112
206-325-9100

Floret
SeaTac Airport, Concourse A
206-731-7533

cafeflora.com

 

 

Photo courtesy of The Flora Bakehouse


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