The coffee at Cortona Café is good and strong. Shop owner, Ice, will wake you up with a hot cup while a catchy mix of music gets your foot tapping long before the caffeine-induced jitters catch up (Photo by Brie Ripley).

The coffee at Cortona Café is good and strong. Shop owner, Ice, will wake you up with a hot cup while a catchy mix of music gets your foot tapping long before the caffeine-induced jitters catch up (Photo by Brie Ripley).

By: Brie Ripley – Seattle Globalist

April 8, 2015

Seattle Globalist – When Isolynn “Ice” Dean took over as manager of Cortona Café on East Union Street about a year and a half ago, it was a very small change for a community adapting to a lot of big changes.

The white-hot issue of gentrification has raised tensions in many Seattle neighborhoods, but perhaps nowhere more than the Central District. Miraculously, Cortona Café has been a beacon of unity for residents new and old. “This is a place where people build relationships” says Amanda Predmore, artist who’s lived nearby for five years. “It’s one of the most intimate cafés in the city.” Eric Smiley, owner of Swing, a hair salon and art gallery next door, says the café’s warm and unifying feeling has a lot do with Dean’s personality. “She’s always ready to give a hug, she just sees it in me some days.” On Saturday mornings the cafe, which sits on the corner of 25th and East Union, is chalk full of caffeine-addicted neighborhood dwellers.

The shop has been a fixture of the block for the last five years and passed between family hands. Dean, 26, is the younger sibling of the café’s original founder — Jason Davidson — a Presbyterian pastor and former Director of Hidmo Community Empowerment Project. Dean’s been running the shop for the last year and a half.

After taking over management, Dean continued her brother’s tradition of serving tiramisu waffles (a shot of espresso poured over a Belgian or vegan waffle, topped with chocolate sauce and a healthy amount of whipped cream) and pouring perfect rosettes of Herkimer espresso for customers.

The coffee shop is one of the few Black-owned businesses left in the Central District. Catfish Corner and Kingfish Café, both Black-owned restaurants with long histories in the area, shuttered their doors in recent months. Their closures add fuel to the debate around gentrification.

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