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Café Rozella is an arthouse café established in the gritty Seattle, Washington suburb of White Center in 2005. The café is named for the 1930’s era building in which it resides, and does most of its trade in espresso drinks but also sells a variety of pastries, exotic sweets, tapas, wine and beer.

Cafe Rozella, photographed by Kevin R.
McClintic
‘Eclectic’ is the operative word when describing the atmosphere inside. Highbrow literary magazines such as Harper's and Ad Busters share the shelves with more pedestrian fare such as The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. Locally produced artworks and handicraft objects are offered for sale in display cases and dozens of artistic black-and-white photos of cultural heroes adorn the walls, along with an exhibition of photos taken recently by an army photojournalist covering the war in Iraq.

The café was conceived by the owners as a kind of anti-Starbucks and the ‘corporate’ logo they chose, an image of Che Guevara chomping proudly one of his trademark Cohíbas, captures Rozella’s philosophy to a tee. A bumper sticker promoting the Café features Guevara saying, “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.”

In spite of being located in an economically depressed part of town the café has emerged as a minor cause celebre on the Seattle arts scene and has enjoyed favorable write-ups in Seattle newspapers and magazines, drawing culture vultures from across the city to come and rub shoulders with real live White Center-ites. On any given evening you may find the place staked out by a handful of laptop-toting yuppies pecking away at their e-mail. OR…. you might just find yourself enmeshed in a bizarre espresso love triangle, with a beatnik poet or musician on one side and a computer geek or businesswoman on the other, even while a local Bible study group palavers in the corner, oblivious to the warm tones of Portuguese fado music wafting deliciously around the café along with the aroma of fresh-brewed espresso. Needless to say, some interesting conversations can emerge from this convergence of powerful karmic forces but the main thing is that, just as with the watering holes of the African savannah, all comers are expected to check their antagonisms at the door.

As a fringe benefit to the area Café Rozella manager Ricardo G. is a moving force in the White Center Arts Alliance, a group that sponsors live music events in a variety of local venues --including the café itself of course. In 2006 the Alliance was responsible for bringing a number of top Seattle acts to perform at small restaurants within a three-block radius in the White Center business district. The majority of the performers hosted by the café have been world music acts, everything from traditional Latin American to Indian sitars and Chinese harps. Given the owners’ Latino background however, and the changing character of the neighborhood itself, they have chosen to focus on emerging Latino bands. Recent acts have included Alma Villegas, Correo Aereo and Show Brazil.

“Nothing breaks down barriers like art --especially music. In the summer we hold most of our events outdoors and the acoustics are great because of the surrounding buildings. Sometimes I’ll be standing behind the counter, hustling up a latte or glass of wine for some customer, and I’ll stop for a second and look out at the audience… and they’ll be absolutely transfixed,” says Ricardo of the café’s summer music nights. “After the show, or sometimes even just during an ordinary day at the café people will say things like ‘I know this is where I belong right now’.”

Besides music the café hosts or has inspired a number of other cultural phenomena including book and poetry readings by local authors, a Spanish conversation group, The Conversation Café, (a safe place for patrons to discuss a variety of topics) and an Internet writer’s group that provides a forum for aspiring writers of all types.

Recently the cafe has been subject to eye opening scrutiny. Many young women who have worked at Cafe Rozella have experienced unfair treatment, including underpayment, missed pay checks, and harrassment, sexual and otherwise. It is sad to see a cafe with such potentional fall to such inhumane conditions. It makes one wonder whether all of the supposed community action is not just a front for a desperate business, out to make money, regardless of the harm done to individual employees.


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