On posters, on the website, on social media, the message has been: Boon Boona opening Fall 2018. So as December rolls by, when will the new store open? The question has been posed to shop owner Efrem Fesaha many times.
“‘What day are you opening? What day are you opening? What day are you opening?’ And like I say ‘Really soon, really soon, we’re almost there,’” he said with a laugh. “But if the community feels this good about us, then we should be OK.”
The 2,600 square foot corner shop on Third Avenue and Williams Street in downtown tentatively plans to open doors on Jan. 7, Fesaha said.
The delay opening Boon Boona’s first cafe was due to a combination of approvals needed to complete.
Fesaha comes from Eritrea, a country near the origin land of coffee, Ethiopia. The long, long history of traditional roasting has been passed down to him.
In Eritrea, people plucked cherry-like fruits and peeled them down to the green seeds inside: the coffee beans. When a guest arrived, they would roast the beans on a deep pan over an open fire. They’d grind and then place them into a clay pot with a thin spout: a Jebena, thousands of years old. Then they add the water and boil it atop the same flames.
“This is what we grew up on, and most households in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan practiced a form of this,” Fesaha said.
When his mother goes to most grocery stores in the U.S., she finds a Ziplock bag of green coffee with no origin information. Fesaha quickly went from helping his mother find higher quality beans, to sourcing and selling the coffee from farmers in Ethiopia.
Boon Boona’s large space will have this traditional roasting on display. A small bar area will create an educational experience of the 30-minute East African coffee ceremony. Fesaha named it broadly because it’s a culmination of many tribes’ techniques.
The teaching bar will also have cuppings (a method of coffee analysis) and wine tastings.
There’s space for outdoor seating, the opportunity inside for local performances and local art to display on the walls, pastries and, of course, brew and espresso.
“We want the space to produce, we want (customers) to see how it’s produced, have some fun and also enjoy a cultural experience,” Fesaha said. “It’s that little bit more.”
Fesaha knew from his finance background to take it one step at a time. Boon Boona first became an online store and vendor of raw, green coffee beans. He then began to roast, and each type of roast comes from a different farm in East Africa. Two years into that, he was ready to finally get the cafe he’s wanted since 2012.
Cortona building owner Dave Brethauer said Fesaha has taken the hardships of construction in stride, and he has high hopes for the shop.
“Everybody is going to love Efrem (Fesaha),” Brethauer said. “He’s probably one of the most charming guys I’ve ever met.”
Brethauer brought new life to Cortona with young stores like Urban Sprout, The Pencil Test and Ascendance. He worked to preserve the historical value of the location while spending $1.3 million in renovations. He said it was with the city and Mayor Denis Law’s support.
The tenants in Cortona are entrepreneurs who reinvent old concepts, Brethauer said, and offer experiences with classes and events. Retail is difficult right now, he said, so by partnering with the city on remodeling he could be picky choosing shops.
“He took his time getting tenants that would add to the downtown core,” Chamber of Commerce’s Diane Dobson said.
Boon Boona participates in events downtown, Dobson said, and Fesaha jumped into creating business relationships before his doors were even open.
Fesaha chose Renton to create a space outside of the Seattle craft scene, in a place that needs and would support a roastery.
“This is Renton’s cafe, but we do have a following for green coffee that would love to have a place (like this),” he said.
Fesaha has family in Renton; his father worked for Boeing here. He’s based in West Seattle but knew he wanted a bigger location to fulfill his vision.
Dobson is pretty loyal with the Renton coffee places already downtown, Common Ground and Liberty Cafe, but said Boon Boona’s approach will be different venture.
“For a minute there I thought, ‘I’m going to have to pick between coffee shops.’ But then I realized, ‘No, I’m just going to add another cup to my day,’” Dobson said.
More information on Boon Boona Coffee is at www.boonboonacoffee.com.
Correction: This story has been corrected to show Fesaha’s mother did not grow her own coffee beans, and to clarify that Eritrea is near the origin land of coffee, which is in Ethiopia.