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Cone & Steiner

More than just a store

Community, legacy, necessity. Hand in glove. At least the way Dani Cone does it with her Cone & Steiner general stores.

Dani grew up in a family who knew how to work hard. Their patriarch, her great-grandfather Sam Cone (photo), was an immigrant who did not speak English. He was a serial entrepreneur who, in a brand new country, found and built community. He married and had a family. He and his brother-in-law Samuel Steiner opened the first Cone & Steiner store in 1915 on 1st Avenue S, where Starbucks corporate headquarters is now.

"There are a lot of barriers when thinking about opening a business," says Dani. "People often feel they need special knowledge, degrees, independent wealth, etc. But growing up in a family of small business owners, I saw that it was an option that even a 'regular' person could do."

She currently owns and operates two Cone & Steiner stores. They are gathering places, just like the original store in 1915. Neighborhood places where people meet and connect while taking care of their shopping needs. "Both stores have a center island, plus tables and chairs where customers can sit and eat or drink something from the store. We cover specialty items, local items, and basics. We've all learned that you can shop online and have food delivered to your home. But nothing replaces that human connection we get when we meet in person." She opened the Capitol Hill store in January of 2014, and the Pioneer Square store in August of 2014. A third store in downtown Seattle opened summer of 2017 but closed in March of 2020 due to the pandemic.

"Going through this pandemic transition has made us streamline our focus. Even with a great team, it's been tough. The business changes weekly. None of us know where we will land on the other side of this," says Dani. "We look at what we need to do to best serve our customers in these new times. The broad mix of what we offer is the same, but size and offerings change based on what people ask for. Pre-pandemic, people bought more prepared meals or grab-n-go items. During the pandemic, they bought more groceries as so many people were staying home and cooking more. Things have changed and will continue to change, but people need to eat, drink, shop, and live. We need to be flexible as we figure it out."

They've just launched non-alcoholic items (Total Zero: "All for nothing. Nothing for all."): Spirits, cocktails, signature house-made drinks like the Oat Cream-oat milk, Jones Soda root beer, vanilla syrup, with a cherry on top. Or consider a rhubarb shrub-housemade rhubarb syrup, Girl Meets Dirt rhubarb shrub, club soda, and a garnish of lemon and an Orasella cherry. Of course, they still have wine and growlers (all of this, along with candy and snacks, is what we assume to be in the "basics" category.)

These neighborhood stores are not Dani's first rodeo. Her first job when she was 15 was as a barista. "I made coffee through high school, college, and after college, for 13 years before starting my own business, Fuel Coffee, in 2005. Over time, I did every job, including managing. I loved coffee shops and working at coffee shops. But there was limited growth opportunity, so I created a business plan for my own shop. My business plan consisted of 'open a coffee shop, make coffee, meet people, be part of a neighborhood, live out my days there.'"

Dani Cone

But then opportunity came knocking. "You know how you eat a dessert and it's so good, then someone asks if you want more? You're full. But you say yes because what else would you say? My landlord told me he had another building and there was a space that would be good for another Fuel location. I hadn't thought about a second location but said yes before I ever figured it out. Almost at the same time, another opportunity came up to get the original space I had looked at but didn't get. So I opened a second store in 2006 and a third in 2007 (Montlake and Wallingford). Then 2008 came and the economy crashed. I had a huge SBA loan, three businesses, 20+ employees."

While trying to figure it all out, Dani headed to her go-to stress reliever: eating pie. "During massive amount of pie eating, it occurred to me that if pie made me feel good, maybe it would make other people feel the same. Pie is affordable, accessible, and it would be another way to get people into the coffee shops. My Grandma Molly shared her recipes and I figured out how to scale them and started High 5 Pie. People would try the pie at Fuel and ask me where they could get it. So it went wholesale from 2008-2011, then wholesale and retail from 2011-2016. I sold it in 2016." In 2014, she started Cone & Steiner. "Coffee, pie, groceries-everyone eats, and this pulled it all together. I always wanted places where anyone can come in and be themselves and there will be someone there who is glad to see them."

Dani sold Fuel Coffee to a friend, Danielle Hulton, in June of 2020. Danielle added books in the past year. All three locations, Capitol Hill, Montlake, and Wallingford are open and serving Fuel Coffee.

As for the future, Dani hopes to return to her growth plan of adding Cone & Steiner modern convenience stores in neighborhoods where she can continue to create community.

Connie Adams/September 2022

Cone & Steiner

Capitol Hill
532 19th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98112
206-582-1928

Pioneer Square
135 S King St
Seattle, WA 98104
206-402-3682

www.coneandsteiner.com

 


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