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Café Hagen, Part 1

A Scandinavian oasis

According to Visit Seattle, by 1910, "Scandinavians were the largest ethnic group in Washington state, comprising over 30 percent of the foreign-born population." Considering this history, today it's not easy to find Scandinavian-inspired food. Yes, it's here, but not in the volume you'd think. That's one reason Café Hagen has been a great addition to the area. There are several others.

Food-wise, owner Maria Beck has brought menu concepts from her native Denmark, like the smørbrød tasting boards. Smørbrød is an open-faced sandwich with a base of buttered rye bread topped with cold cuts, meat, fish, or veggies. These can be found on the dinner menu at their top-of-the-hill Queen Anne location (and hopefully at other locations in the future). Choose from the veggie, fish, or meat boards. Each board contains three sandwiches with different ingredients. For instance, the meat board has prosciutto. French brie, fig jam, and fresh arugula; duck pâté, bacon, pickled onion, microgreens; roast beef, house made remoulade sauce, picked cucumber, fried onions, watercress greens. She incorporates local ingredients, like the wild boar in one of the flatbreads. A few of the ingredients in the tasting boards (pickled onion and fennel, duck pâté, salmon pâté) can be found as sides in case you just have to have more (you may, they're very good). All locations have breakfast with items such as a salmon breakfast bun and seasonal jam waffle. Weekend brunch features choice of meat or veggie served with scrambled eggs, Danish heart waffle, seasonal jam. Pair it with a mimosa, sangria, or Danish Mary (made with aquavit). "We take inspiration from Europe, Sweden, Germany (kugelhopf), France (duck pate), and Latvia (some signature drinks), as well as Denmark," explains Maria.

Maria is, by nature and career, an engineer. She has a Master of Science from both the Copenhagen Business School and Danish Royal Technical University and spent her career with a huge Danish pharmaceutical company (50,000 employees, one of them her husband who was in finance) as an engineer in research and development, then as a business consultant. All background to help you understand how detailed she is, and why, when she decided to change careers, it was important to her that she continue to create something. It is astounding what she has created since they bought their first coffee shop (the former Java Bean in Ballard, now Venture) in 2016. "As an owner, I'm in charge of the product that comes into our house. We want to have the best café in the world. People who come in trust you; you have to control quality," Maria explains. First on her ASAP list was coffee. They now have their own roastery, Hagen Coffee Roasters at the bottom of Queen Anne hill, also a café. You can buy their coffee for home use, as well. She is a certified quality coffee grader. They bring in coffee seasonally and work with known farmers through known distributors. "Sometimes we bring in beans from a known source we wouldn't normally, but want to share with our customers something they would never know about and can learn something interesting."

Second on her list was pastries. "Most coffee shops and cafes buy pastries frozen from the same few places, so no matter where you go, you see the same selection," says Maria. "I want to offer fresh pastries that we've made, not muffins I can make at home. What won't I make at home?" They now have Freya Bakery at Pike Place Market, also a café, making pastries and bread fresh daily, supplying them exclusively to their cafes. "Do you want 2 or 10 or 50 croissants? We have the competency to provide our customers with whatever they want." Freya creates items like Blueberry Danish, Cardamom Knot, Churro Cruffin, tiramisu, orange almond cake, rum balls, cookies, quiche, and all the bread used in the cafes-light and dark rye, brioche buns, banana bread. "We want to be the best bakery in Seattle, and that means continued innovation. One of the newest is the supreme croissant. "These are popular in Europe, Scandinavia, and you can find some in New York. There are three flavors, the outside is crunchy, with cream inside. We love to introduce and combine new flavors, it's fun and seasonal. We also love to share old recipes. Our raspberry bars can be found in Scandinavian cookbooks that are ages old. Sometimes less is more." They're also working on their own ice cream. And at times they like to bring something else in entirely, like the Spanakopita Croissant with feta cheese and spinach bechamel. "We want to continue to level up in taste and presentation."

Third was tea and chai. "We wanted to make our own, so we tested over and over. We tried all 22 versions out on our regulars. Within three weeks, we had it and were serving it in the cafes and in bottles. Within a month, we had tea and chai products for sale."

They do some fun things with beverage, like their aquavit flight (great with their pickled onions and fennel); mocha flight which is basically a deconstructed mocha where you get to try the ingredients separately; and a gin and tonic tasting board. This gets back to her interest in how to get your palate and brain communicating; she is now trained to show how others to make that connection and learn how to combine flavors. 'I'm not unique, anyone can do this, you just have to get the training."

It's not all about food and beverage. Maria wanted to create an all-day café, different from a coffee shop. A place where people come in, sit, enjoy conversation. "Of course, anyone is welcome to bring their laptop in and work or listen to podcasts. But we want to create community, a vibrant place, with music playlists that are ours. We want a different, interesting experience you feel as you walk in; a place to escape from your every-day environment. If we have the best product, best process, and best people, we can have the best cafes. It's so fun doing this, it's like a hobby. It's hard work, but I don't want it to stop!"

Connie Adams/April 2023

Watch for Part 2 in our May issue

Café Hagen

South Lake Union Cafe
1252 Thomas St
Seattle, WA 98109

Uptown Café & Coffee Roaster
800 5th Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

Queen Anne Café & Restaurant
2128 Queen Anne Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

700 Dexter Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109?

Freya Bakery & Café
1426 Western Ave
Pike Place Market
Seattle, WA 98101

5819 24th Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107

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