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Café Hagen, Part 2

How it all came about

Last month we talked about the food, beverage, and environment of Café Hagen locations. This month we go back and find out how and when it all started.

Maria and her husband, Jan Beck, both worked for a large pharmaceutical company in Denmark, she in research and development, he in finance. He had the opportunity to start a Seattle research office in 2009. Because of her R&D background, they were both able to work here, but she could spend no more than 50% of her time here, the rest in Denmark: three weeks there, three weeks here. "It was so fun. We had no kids and we would meet in London and New York for getaways. We explored a lot of new cultures and talked about how fun it might be to have some of these things in Seattle and Denmark." In 2012, her husband was promoted and running the Seattle show. She could no longer work here. She took a consultant job at the Gates Foundation for two years. Having been an engineer in R&D creating molecules and developing drugs, she now felt isolated in an office without a product. She needed to create something.

She started working as a business consultant while looking for a business to buy, searching for over a year. The couple had decided to live in the U.S. and sold their apartment in Denmark. She found a local, organic coffee shop for sale in Ballard and thought, "Perfect!" They bought Java Bean in 2016; it had been part of the community for 24 years, starting with a coffee cart downtown. "I had never done restaurant service and was so naïve. There was no handbook, we just took over one day. I assumed there would be someone to ask. That night, I stayed and cleaned; for two months I stayed until 10 p.m. every night. We looked at operations and then products, changing staff, menu, and working with the health department to learn what we should be doing. Within two weeks, we'd changed everything. I would joke with my husband, 'Can we get our money back? I'm sure I have the receipt somewhere.' I figured out what my product was and where it came from. We kept the name Java Bean until 2017 then changed it to Venture, because it was the first step in our new adventure.

"People were shocked at the changes we made, like the new coffee machine, and opening windows to let light in. People did not want change. We changed what we felt we needed to and left some things alone because they were important to the neighborhood." In 2017, they created their chai and other teas. In 2018, they started roasting their own coffee beans after a great deal of research and time spent with the City and Clean Air Agency. They shared roasting equipment with a small roaster at the bottom of Queen Anne hill for a year.

In 2019, they opened the first Café Hagen in South Lake Union. "It would be our vision, doing it our way, and no one would complain about fancy coffee equipment!" She bought an oven and freezer to make bread and pastries, then hired a baker. "I wanted everything we sold to be ours when we opened SLU."

In 2021, they opened their own bakery and café at the Pike Place Market, called Freya, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. In 2020, the Uptown Café Hagen and roastery opened. In 2022, the Queen Anne Café Hagen opened, the first to be her full vision of an all-day café. Breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner, wine, cocktails. The Dexter Café Hagen opened spring 2023.

Café interiors differ, but all are based on the idea of hygge, the cozy contentment and well-being you feel from enjoying the simple things in life. Coffee mugs, cups, and plates are all Danish brands. Scandinavian design is all about details and curves, in cups and plates, walls. They use oak in their cafes which is common in Denmark with black accents, and marble counters. "We want to show people you can expect something more and different in our cafes. It is important to us that when guests are here, they feel the simple but comforting environment. There are beautiful light fixtures in pleasant shapes, some that look like candle light in the air. Colors are natural, what you would find in nature. It's about harmony. 'Hagen' is a warrior protector, and we want to protect people from hectic everyday life."

They are also protective of staff. "We want coffee to be a career. My job is to succeed so these people can have a career, buy a house, have a family. As we open new cafes, we promote from within. We find and train champions so they can train the next champions. We train so everyone understands everything we do: everyone who works at a café comes to the bakery and works so they see how our products are made. Each employee creates something every day. We've become a family."

They are planning one or two more cafes, one possibly in Bellevue, with an emphasis on creating value for a neighborhood with full-day cafes. Maria also has a vision of a non-profit business that trains people in coffee. "Getting educated in this is costly and many people don't have that kind of money. If we offer the training, it's a way to give back to the community, and add to the number of quality baristas.

"Every day I wake up and ask myself if we are on track with our plan, mission, and vision. I love it!" With Maria, if she envisions it, she can do it. Considering the Café Hagen locations, bakery, roastery, Venture coffee shop, and tea business she's created in six years, there's no doubt there's more interesting things coming our way.

Connie Adams/May 2023

Click here to read Part 1

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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