Nollie’s Cafe, now in its 10th year, has stood the test of time in this fast-changing Seattle neighborhood, serving up comfort, consistency and care for its neighborhood.
One of the first things you’ll notice upon entering Nollie’s Cafe is how very different it feels from its shiny new neighbors nearby. A mix of eclectic décor fills the space, as if collected over the years: Toy animal figurines watch customers from the front counter; an electric fireplace hangs on the wall; pastry labels, written in colorful marker, tell eaters which cookies are chocolate chip and which, rather, are peanut butter.
The cafe, now in its 10th year — effectively a veteran of the South Lake Union neighborhood — feels homey, lived-in. And that’s the point.
“My goal is to have a place where people feel comfortable eating without breaking their budget or without feeling like they’re still hungry,” says Nollie’s owner Dan Munro, 56, who’s lived in the Seattle area for the past 45 years.
1165 Harrison St. (South Lake Union), Seattle; 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; 206-769-1776; nolliescafe.com
It seems to have worked out so far. The cafe has roughly an 80 percent customer- retention rate according to their sales tracker, he said — meaning about four-fifths of their patrons have been in before. And many customers will order the same thing every day.
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A lot of that, he says, is due to the cafe’s consistent quality of food and service. Almost everything on the menu is made in-house from scratch, and items that aren’t get sourced locally. His wife, Sue, who also works at the cafe, has a knack for remembering names, he says. And he’s constantly tweaking the menu based on customer feedback.
“One thing I always ask people is, ‘What do you need? What is it that will make you feel good?’ ” he says.
That has produced, most recently, the Cuban sandwich, introduced on the menu four months ago and currently their No. 1 seller. Another time, he says, the lead performer of “Mamma Mia,” playing at the Paramount Theatre, came to the cafe every day for a large bowl of oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast.
The what-do-you-need attitude extends to those on staff as well. Many of the cafe’s workers over the years have been in theater productions — which can take over your entire schedule for months at a time, then abruptly end once the performances are over. This poses a challenge for finding consistent work in those off months.
Munro, who has recently returned to the theater stage himself, says Nollie’s has accommodated some of its workers when they had to leave temporarily for artistic pursuits.
“It’s one thing to say you support the arts, it’s another to help the artists where they need help,” he says. “ … It’s been a point of pride for us to have all these wonderful, talented people to use Nollie’s as a springboard for their career.”
The menu: “We tend to appeal to people who are looking for comfort food,” says Munro. “They’re not interested in the new-age, fusion, fancy $20 plates … they want something that tastes like home.”
That it does. The cafe serves an extensive selection of sandwiches, salads and, most important, breakfast all day. This includes customizable breakfast sandwiches, Benedicts and cinnamon-roll French toast.
Beyond that, there’s a large case of pastries, containing goodies like deliciously chewy, chocolate-heavy chocolate-chip cookies, lemon bars, scones and an assortment of pies.
Definitely don’t miss: A breakfast sammie on a buttermilk biscuit. The Herbi was a delight, thanks in large part to the fluffy biscuit bun that held it together.
This is not your typical giant, crumbling mess of a biscuit breakfast sandwich. Nollie’s biscuit, the winner among about a dozen recipe tests, is soft and fluffy, and compact enough in height to fit comfortably in a single bite without setting off a cascade of crumbs. (“I don’t like biscuits that fall apart,” says Munro, who had one specifically crafted for the breakfast sandwich.)
Prices: A Nollie’s Dip sandwich ($11), Herbi breakfast sandwich ($5), home fries ($3), quiche ($5.95), chocolate-chip cookie ($2) and lemon bar ($2) amounted to $28.95 before tax and tip.