Caffe Vita, one of the largest independent coffee roasters in the country, poured locally everywhere from Lark to Linda’s to our ferry system, has a new owner.
On January 1, Deming Maclise officially took over Vita’s 10 shops (spread across Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn), three roasting facilities, and a network of hundreds of wholesale customers in all 50 states, not to mention a critical mass of Seattle bars and restaurants.
Maclise already had a stake in Vita, but he’s likely also a familiar name for anyone who has dined in (or simply ogled the decor at) places like Bastille, Poquitos, Stoneburner, and Rhein Haus. But before that, as he puts it, “I was deep in coffee.” After spending the past 12 years opening some of the town’s most striking restaurants with business partner James Weimann, “I get to go do coffee while I’m still doing restaurants.”
Maclise was a barista and manager at Uptown Espresso during the 1990s, the era that established our city’s coffee bona fides. In 2002, he bought Sunset Hill’s Caffe Fiore, growing an affable little community hub into four locations, all serving organic beans.
In 2016, Fiore joined forces with Vita in what Maclise terms a merger. With the recent transaction, he bought out Vita owner Mike McConnell, a Seattle figure who is somehow both enigmatic and omnipresent, between founding pizzeria Via Tribunali and backing a range of great local restaurants, like Li’l Woody’s, Hitchcock, and the Wandering Goose, plus more pizza at Big Mario’s and Pizzeria 22.
McConnell’s not one to talk to the press, and didn't respond to my query about the sale. When I did manage to profile him in 2016, he said selling the business was always a consideration, if the benefits of a sale outweighed his enjoyment in running the business that began as a single shop in Queen Anne in 1995, frequented in those days by grunge musicians.
As Maclise takes over all things Vita, he’s not planning enormous changes, but wants to spend his time investing in its culture. “I want Vita to be known as having the type of customer service that makes people’s day,” he says. “I want to create a community around each shop.” In the long term, it seems likely a guy with Maclise’s penchant for aesthetics will put his own stamp on the look and feel of the cafes as well.
He’s also excited to have Caffe Fiore back, and says the branding there will be more separate from Vita than it has been since the merge. Last January, Maclise took back the original location, but this turn of events reunites the Sunset Hill Fiore with the other three.