by Phil Manzano

After more than two years, the Redwing Cafe in Rainier Beach has opened — another sign of businesses re-emerging from the long shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Redwing is located along South 57th Avenue just off Rainier Avenue South, the center of an eclectic group of small businesses ranging from Drae’s Lake Street to Jude’s at Defined Salon. At the corner of Rainier Avenue is Creamy Cone Café, and just below and across from the future Detective Cookie Chess Park is King Donuts (which will move a few blocks north to the former Beach Bakery location at 7820 Rainier Ave. S. .).

Owner Anthony Campbell recalls meeting the entire staff as the pandemic unfolded in 2020. They had seen what was happening in Italy with COVID-19 when they decided to close on March 13. They thought it would take a few weeks, but as the crisis deepened, Campbell realized they wouldn’t be opening anytime soon.

The idea behind Redwing was to be a welcoming space for the neighborhood. There was no clear way to do this with the pandemic.

“We’ve always planned to reopen at some point,” Campbell said. “We thought we’d just do a pickup window. But we realized that one of the main goals here is to have a community gathering space, so a takeout window wasn’t going to do that.”

In addition, there were concerns that some of the cafe’s regulars who were in their 90s were falling ill.

Instead, Anthony took the time to do some painting and renovation of the kitchen and outdoor living area. In addition, Redwing’s Facebook page became a place to support local businesses around the block and city.

“With social media, we decided to highlight other neighborhood businesses that were open,” Campbell said. “Because, you know, it was hard for anybody to be open, so we wanted to encourage [people to support them].”

Redwing puts out a call on social media for Drae’s Lake Route neighborhood business.

Campbell and co-owner Su Harambe have lived in Rainier Beach for more than 10 years and saw Redwing as a way to provide a gathering space for the local community.

“Before we first opened,” Campbell said, “we had lived in the neighborhood for eight or 10 years and we wanted, we wanted, there was a place where we could walk and have a cup of coffee and hang out. There never was, and so at some point, we just decided to do it,” Campbell said.

Redwing Cafe opened with the motto: “Food of the land for people of the land”, serving vegetarian food and coffee drinks. And in addition to locals, they’ve had a few celebrities check into the Redwing, including radio and television host and atheist spokesperson Ron Reagan and soccer star Megan Rapinoe.

Two years after the pandemic, the corner of 57th and Rainier Avenue is changing — reflecting the growth coming to the area. At a Rainier Beach town hall on the latest development, community members heard that about 11,000 units from about 20 projects will come online in the next few years.

Some of this growth is close by from Redwing. Polaris at Rainier Beach, a 5-story, 306-unit affordable apartment building, opened earlier this year. The condo also has 5,300 square feet of ground-level retail space and a 148-stall parking garage.

Redwing Cafe’s Facebook page shows some love on social media for the Creamy Cone Café opening.

“You know this block — it’s been great,” Campbell said. “We opened around the same time as Nate’s (Drae’s Lake Route) and Jude’s and the more things that happen on the block the better, the more activity on the block the better for us as well.”

“It’s going to get denser and more active, which I think is fine,” he said. “I used to be kind of anti-development, but now it seems like we need more housing in the city … so I’m all for building more housing in urban neighborhoods. The more people walking around, the safer and friendlier the neighborhood is anyway, so I think it’s going to become more lively and dense with people.”

Editors note: This article was updated with information about King Donuts’ upcoming move to a new location.

Phil Manzano is a South Seattle writer, editor with more than 30 years of experience in daily journalism and was most recently news editor for the Emerald.

📸 Featured Image: Anthony Campbell, co-owner of Redwing Cafe. (Photo: Phil Manzano)

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