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Neighborhood Spotlight: Arosa Café

This Madison Valley hub engenders the true spirit of Seattle’s coffee-loving community culture

Alayne Sulkin

Published on: July 27, 2023

Cesar Santangelo, Photo by Alayne Sulkin
Cesar Santangelo. Photo by Alayne Sulkin

Welcome to Arosa Café, where the vibrant essence of Venezuela meets Seattle’s rich coffee culture. Nestled among an eclectic array of independent shops located adjacent to the Washington Park Arboretum, Arosa is a beacon of warmth and camaraderie. At its helm is charismatic owner Cesar Santangelo, whose passion for community, coffee — and the café’s signature waffles — radiates from the moment you cross the threshold. In a city teeming with more than 300 coffee shops, Arosa is a unique cultural hub, one where the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans intertwines with the joyous chatter of friends, families and strangers-turned-regulars (like me). Step inside and you’ll be enveloped in its tapestry of flavors, colors and heartfelt connections.

ParentMap sat down with Santangelo to talk about culture, community and — of course — coffee.

How has your Venezuelan cultural background influenced the atmosphere and menu at Arosa Café?

Santangelo: In Venezuela, we embrace warmth and exude a genuine sense of generosity. We possess an innate curiosity about people’s happiness and well-being. As an immigrant, I’ve built a community around our café that mirrors the closeness of a family. At Arosa, we have carefully crafted an intimate atmosphere where you will instantly feel at home, indulging in your favorite treats. Our goal is to provide a haven where you can recharge, be pampered, and relish in a joyful and comfortable environment.

You are a devoted husband to Adriana, and father to Alessandro, age 11, and Luciana, age 5. How do you incorporate family-friendly elements into the atmosphere at Arosa Café?

Creating a family-friendly experience comes naturally to us, as we are not only a business but a tight-knit family ourselves. We serve dishes that resonate with our own children’s preferences, incorporating fresh and simple ingredients that are ideal for school lunches. Our lunch combos are cleverly designed to accommodate both family outings and professional meetings. We maintain flexibility in our menu to cater to the discerning palates of both little ones and those who are not so little.

Finding equilibrium between work and personal life can be a challenge, but as a team, we prioritize coordination and planning. To ensure quality family time, we have expanded our operational hours, allowing us to strike a harmonious balance.

What inspired you to open a coffee shop in Arboretum Court? Were there any specific reasons you chose this location?

It was our destiny! There was a magical moment when we needed to find our calling, and my wife went on Craigslist and found Arosa. This location had a sense of organic and intimate community. On one hand, you have all the businesses around that have grown and succeeded throughout the years, thanks to the support of the loyal customers and also the surrounding areas, like the gorgeous arboretum, The Bush School and the amazing neighborhood.

As a business owner, what have been your greatest challenges on your journey to establish and expand Arosa Café?

Building trust among our clientele has been one of the greatest challenges we encountered. Demonstrating our commitment to longevity and maintaining a service characterized by integrity and love was paramount. Over the course of nine years, we have proven ourselves as steadfast keepers of this establishment. You can feel it in the air. Many are bringing their loved ones and new babies. It's quite awesome how we’ve seen singles become families.

Have you discovered any surprising or unexpected connections between your neighbors at Tricoter knitting shop, going on 40 years, and new neighbor The Power Petite, now celebrating its first anniversary?

All the time, it’s like going skiing without snow or gear. One can’t be without the other. People have said this is their ritual now. They come for a mood recharge to Arosa Café, then go next door for baby gear and clothes at The Power Petite, lunch at Nick’s, or to Nick’s wife Ryan’s boutique, Emry.

We are like brothers and sisters in this small community. We’ve been faced with a significant amount of crime recently, and we have each other’s backs. I know for a fact, from your daughter Ari, at The Power Petite, that the store exists in great part due to Refind co-owners Susie Cohen and Jeannine Christofilis, who literally put their arms around her to help establish her children’s high-end consignment shop. I can see that she’s created a community herself with young parents in our community.

Have you observed any heartwarming interactions between your children and customers at the coffee shop?

We have so many that you would truly cry! There is one that has stuck out the most. When we acquired Arosa Café, our son Allesandro was only 2. He’s now 11 and will be entering middle school this fall. Customers have seen him grow up, make deliveries and tend the till. When we were expecting our daughter Luciana, who is 5 now, everyone was excited and wanted to be part of it in some way. Arboretum Court tenants and regular customers threw a baby shower for us. Now, that’s something! This is “family” in capital letters.

Find it: Arosa Café is located at 3121 E. Madison St. in Seattle’s Madison Valley neighborhood.

Day out in Madison Valley

After a visit to the Washington Park Arboretum, swing by Arosa Café to greet Cesar, and then check out these other Arboretum Court businesses families should know about.

Belle Epicurean: This local bakery has been a favorite of Seattle families for almost 20 years. Pop in after your arboretum visit to eat a flaky pastry, scrumptious sandwich or decadent dessert.

The Refind Closet: Whether you’re looking for your next handbag or a pair of strappy sandals, you can find it at this upscale resale shop that helps buyers and consignors extend the life of their luxury goods.

The Power Petite: Because kids outgrow their clothes at lightning-fast speeds, there’s The Power Petite. Stop in to find consigned luxury brands for kids, from birth through the teen years, plus maternity wear, adorable accessories and gear for all your parenting needs.

Emry Boutique: If your wardrobe needs a glow-up, put a stop at Emry on your list. This boutique has it all, including thoughtful gifts and must-have accessories.

Nick’s on Madison: There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a meal or enjoying a cool drink at Nick’s on Madison after touring the Seattle Japanese Garden or kayaking around the Montlake Cut.

Tricoter: Knitters of all ages will love the colorful array of yarns lining the wall at Tricoter. Stop in to pick up a pattern, register for a class or find a knitting kit to keep you busy this summer.

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