The cafe in KEXP’s gathering space has a new occupant, and Caffe Vita has a new showpiece coffee shop. As you might imagine, those two developments are related.
The foundational Seattle coffee brand is moving into the former La Marzocco cafe and showroom space in Seattle Center, a counter within hangout-and-listen distance of KEXP’s studios. This new iteration, dubbed Vita at KEXP, knits a few big Seattle names together—and it opens this Monday, October 18.
The connective tissue here is Deming Maclise, who took over as Vita’s owner at the start of 2020. His background includes years as a musician and 1990s-era barista (and a host of magnificently appointed restaurants). “When La Marzocco opened there, I was a customer pretty much every day,” he says of the space’s prior occupant. “That was my hangout, where I had all my meetings.”
The 94-year-old Italian espresso machine manufacturer bases its U.S. operations—assembly, repairs, training—in Ballard. Its presence in Seattle Center, the company's first cafe, injected our signature beverage into the city’s cultural heart, and gave anyone hitting up a museum exhibit, theater matinee, or even the Space Needle, a reliable stop for outstanding coffee and impressive guest roasters. A drip or americano here often came with a backdrop of live KEXP.
The cafe went dark in September, but Vita’s presence doesn’t mean a farewell to La Marzocco. The back wall, known as the La Marzocco Home Lab, will still be full of at-home espresso machines that visitors can test out. Maclise also hired La Marzocco veteran Tarika Raak to oversee the place. This likely goes without saying, but La Marzocco’s equipment will power its daily coffeemaking.
Vita at KEXP will also continue the guest roaster tradition, pairing its own coffee with a rotating offering from La Marzocco’s home subscription roster. Vita will also serve Beecher’s mac and cheese plus breakfast sandwiches and lunchtime fare, and grab-and-go food. “We just wanted to put our stamp on it a little bit, and try to make it a little cozier and warmer,” says Maclise. When Seattle Center hosts a big event (a concert, a Kraken game) the cafe will stay open until 8 and serve beer and wine, once liquor licenses get sorted out for this unusual space.
While he didn’t have this specific project in mind back in January 2020, Maclise entered into Caffe Vita ownership knowing he wanted to cement some connections with the radio station he’s long supported and the espresso machine he’s maneuvered since his first barista gig at Uptown Espresso. “It’s important to me to keep La Marzocco here,” he says.
A grand opening party, with bands naturally, is a few low-infection months in our future. Meanwhile, Seattle Center once again has a locally rooted destination for an impressive cup of coffee.