Business

Monkey Tree’s three owners will miss the bustle and community

Renee Mroczek, Megan Hastings-Cone and Adam Cone have found café ownership an adventure. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Renee Mroczek, Megan Hastings-Cone and Adam Cone have found café ownership an adventure.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

In four short years, the Monkey Tree has claimed a beloved spot in the Island’s culinary landscape.

Regulars flock there for its hearty breads, soups and vegetarian fare. Friends hold meetings at the large tables at the back of the long, skinny café. Some bop in just to indulge in a sample — a platter of pastry pieces so big they’re like desserts in and of themselves.

This time of year, the windows are always steamy. And if you left your wallet at home — no problem. One of the owners will invariably tell you to stop by later with money.

Little wonder, then, that many are mourning the café’s sale or impending closure.

“I’m very sad. I think it’s going to be a great loss,” said Lynne Cardigan, as she lingered over a meal by the steamy window.

J.W. Turner, who meets his friend George Heidorn at the cafe every Friday, looked downcast. “We don’t know where we’re going to go,” he said matter of factly, a pastry drizzled in chocolate on a plate in front of him and his friend.

But for the three co-owners — Adam Cone, Megan Hastings-Cone and Renee Mroczek — the daily demands of owning a café have made them yearn for a bit more freedom. It’s also been tricky working as a threesome, especially in light of their passion for food and attention to detail.

“I would put it this way,” Cone said, when asked why they’re selling. “I know three ponies who are tired of being hitched to the same post.”

They hope someone buys the restaurant, listed at $120,000; a real estate brochure calls it “your chance to get into the Vashon spirit.” But even if no takers step up, the three intend to close sometime after the holidays.

It will be bittersweet, the three acknowledged.

“We’ve done a great job and have met a lot of great people,” Mroczek said. “It’s something I won’t forget.”

Indeed, during a wide-ranging interview, the three recalled moments that made café ownership unforgettable, at times exhausting and almost always an adventure.

They opened Dec. 4, 2006, Cone and Mroczek having just left Sound Food, where they were both bakers. Hastings-Cone, meanwhile, had been managing Gallery 070, which has since closed.

None of them had much money, not enough, in fact, to stock their pantry. But they could afford garbanzo beans — so they opened with a very limited menu, featuring hummus and ministrone soup.

Indeed, in the first few months of café ownership, they’d buy their groceries at Thriftway for the following day, unable to afford what Cone called “a reasonable food order.” (Now, their supplier is the popular Pacific Food Importers in Seattle.)

There were many sweet episodes in the years that followed — special nights like Halloween, when they served risotto cakes shaped like eyeballs with a fork stabbed through them and red pepper sauce spilling over the side, or a night in honor of Russia, called “A Winter’s Night in St. Petersburg,” when Hastings-Cone donned a rhinestone-studded dress and a furry Russian hat.

They’re clearly pleased by what they created — from the rich countertops and functional benches they built to a back lot that was once a virtual junkyard and is now a charming patio for dining al fresco.

They’ve also loved the sense of community that has sprung up around them. They know countless customers by name. And Cone laughed as he recalled some of the trades they’ve made — bartering hearty meals, for instance, for yard work or woodstove removal.

But they’re also itching to do other things with their lives. Mroczek wants to go on a two-month backpacking trip, Cone hopes to find time to draw and write, and Hastings-Cone wants a quieter and less hectic life for a while.

“I’d like to do food again,” Cone added, “but in a more modest context.”

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