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The Dane: Finding Hygge in a COVID World

July 2020: The Dane launched in Seattle’s Crown Hill neighborhood in 2015 by two couples - a techie geek, a marketing magician and two biology nerds - and grew through a mutual love of community, good food and great beer. (Always beer!) The Dane has strived to create a place that embodies the Scandinavian notion of “hygge”, a concept that evokes "coziness", particularly when relaxing with friends or loved ones and enjoying a tasty beverage and sharing a meal.

Neighborhood: Crown Hill

How did the concept for the Dane come to be?

My husband and I are both in the science field. our business partners work at Microsoft, none of us have any kids and we were looking to do something else with our time. I had met my business partner who is half of the other couple playing roller derby, but when we “retired” from that sport we talked about what else we could do with our time. We wanted it to be completely different from what any of us did, every day.

The four of us love beer and we were excited by what Chuck’s Hop Shop had become – it was like the greatest concept in the entire world. And then we found the space – it was between our home in Shoreline and our partners’ home on Queen Anne. It was in Crown Hill, which is still very much on the precipice of growing and we wanted to be part of good growth for this community. It just all came together.

We wanted a place where the community could gather around. Part of our inspiration came from when my husband and I lived in Denmark. Each neighborhood had its little coffee/get-a-pint/bring-your-kids-in spot. So we set out to be that space for this neighborhood.

The Dane is in a still emerging neighborhood and was only a few years old….where were you at when COVID hit?

The amount of cost that it takes to keep this kind of place open was beyond our understanding or our predictions. And the neighborhood has helped shape what we have become, which is a little bit away from our original vision. It's slower than we anticipated, but the breadth of it is beyond what we had imagined. So, we were happy with that.

In what ways has it shifted?

We were very focused on beer and on having food trucks – we did not want to deal with food at all. But the neighborhood has shown that they want a place where they can get good coffee, a decent breakfast, along with the beer.

And that has required a real shift for us: now we need to have somebody making food and we need somebody making coffee, all the time, all while educating people on 25 different beers.

It was actually getting to be a bit much.

What happened in March?

We had to cut 75 percent of our staff. Our sales went down 70 percent. We cut our menu way back and have been focused on pre-orders for pick-up, on limited hours.

But, in some ways, it has slowed down that runaway train, where we were trying to be too much.

While the revenue concerns are pressing, what other pain points are you looking to dig into during this prolonged shutdown, so that you come out the other side stronger?

I think a pain point for me and my husband was just how much it had spiraled out of our vision into this coffee shop – we had lost the focus on beer. It's not like we wanted to be a bar – we wanted to be able to be a community space where people came around, gathered and talked to each other. There were times when I would go in there at 2 in the afternoon and 30 people be in there and it would be silent - that does not feel like community to me.

That’s the tension we want to dig into as we re-open…how do we center the experience of coming together?

In what ways are you thinking about how you take back control of the idea of a third place, especially as we’re heading out of isolation and so actively seeking places to come together again?

Hopefully people will be hungry for that coming together too. I know, personally, I've reevaluated things that are important in my life. So I think this has been a time for people to reflect on that.

We had started doing more programing in the evenings: live music, meet-the-candidates, trivia night. We would just turn the Wi-Fi off so folks could focus on those events. We received some pushback but we also saw more people engaging with each other, which was great. It was what we wanted the experience to be.

I think we’ll keep looking to expand those experiences.

What has kept your customers coming back during the shut-down?

The coffee is still a big draw. People still want to walk the dog and get a coffee. And, because we’re a neighborhood spot, we still have a lot of our return customers coming in.

The Liquor Control Board has been great in rolling out a lot of changes very quickly so that we can adapt. Now we can do different sizes of beer. We can offer cocktails-to-go, which helps us sell off some of our stock.

We started carrying retail coffee beans and I can't keep them on the shelf. They're always out by the time my next order rolls out, which is great

But, still, menu fatigue, especially on the reduced menu, is real. We're trying to figure out ways to keep it fresh and interesting - give them something new and a reason to keep coming back.

Did you receive a PPP loan?

We did not. We missed the first round of applications. And I'm not sure it would have worked for us in that we just don't have enough business to hire back a lot of our folks.

What support have you received? One thing we have going for us is our landlord is a small property owner. She owns a few different properties around Seattle. She is pretty bad-ass and she understands what’s happening.

She also lives near this community. She knows people here. So, she’s been working with us to defer rent.

Long-term, our hope is that we’ve built a strong enough relationship with her. She's not some faceless entity, she loves this building, she has been very supportive of what we've built for the community in which she lives and has raised her family. We hope she will be willing to work with us.

You are able to open during the summer months, to some extent, as we progress into other phases. How are you feeling about that?

We have a roll-up door and we have a patio, so we are moving some seating outside. But, we are not in a hurry to open up.

We need to see where our staff are at and whether they feel safe. They’re in a difficult position. What is the expectation of them in forcing people to wear masks? In other parts of the country, people have been flat-out refusing to wear masks because they think you’re taking some sort of right away from them.

This is really going to put staff in a situation where they're getting they're getting yelled at, where they're having to negotiate with our customers. And, as a business owner, I don’t want an employee to feel that they need to mitigate that situation.

How have you started to wrap your head around the next year?

Well, to start, as a scientist, I’m hoping for a vaccine.

I'm sad that we have this beautiful space that nobody can go into but, it is a large space, so we may be able to, at some point, open it up and keep customers separated.

But, there’s no way to predict how our customers will feel about coming in, even if we do open again.

What do you wish the government understood about what’s happening with your business?

Well, to start, I wish President Trump would listen to science. I feel like our state has done a much better job of responding because they have listened to people who understand what's going on and haven’t pretended it's not happening.

I think the city and the state have tried to do some things but it's not enough. I think leases and rates need to be reconsidered and that that needs to be a mandate.

It's infuriating, too, that the stock market has been the best it's ever been. Small businesses are a huge sector of the economy and we’re hurting, but it's like, it doesn't even matter.

Hey, Seattle, here's how you can help!

  • Pre-order for pick-up at the Dane!

  • The Dane has been digging into building a vibrant business community with the Crown Hill Village Association - check out CHVA or your local business network, to see how you can help!

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