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New coffee shop owner began with the rise of the espresso industry | Photos
Maple Street’s round 1960s building has been many things in its life.
It first opened as a hamburger shop with a large rotating sign centered on top. Later, it turned in the home of the 12th Ave. Cafe, a coffee shop, a Mexican restaurant and, most recently, another burger joint.
A serious tenant hasn’t settled in the unusual space in a decade, at least not one as passionate as Bill Southwell.
He opened his third Mondo’s in the iconic Issaquah space this fall.
An original espresso man, he joined the coffee trade in the 1980s, about the same time Howard Shultz first bought Starbucks.
In spite of Southwell’s tales of success in riding the rise of the espresso bar, his story landed him in a humbler place, but with a happier family.
When he first decided to leave lawyering, he made plans to open a take-and-bake pizza place. That plan was set aside when he met Joe Monoghan, now the U.S. president of La Marzocco. At the time Monoghan was importing coffee bars and beans from Italy. Southwell figured that he could open three espresso bars for the same cost of one pizza place.
“The movement was just getting started,” he said. “It was intoxicating, and it was just fun.”
He had opened six Piccolo’s when he first met Shultz, who only had about eight. Southwell recalls teasing Shultz that someday they might be competitors. “They didn’t look that big.”
At the time Starbucks had a deal with Peet’s Coffee that it wouldn’t cross into California for five years. Southwell took advantage of the deal, and opened several espresso bars down south.
His momentum was fast and in a few years he had opened about 40 Piccolo’s. The growth of the company came to a halt when his VP of operations, Dick Steinbock, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Southwell would come to realize how much he depended on the man.
Inspired by what was happening in the fast food industry, Southwell proposed that the company capitalize on the movement. The drive thru was a new idea for espresso.
His board of directos decided instead to focus on its expansions in New York.
That decision combined with increased traveling made Southwell decide to move on.
Entrepreneurship still thick in his blood, he invested his own money in opening Mondo’s in Eastgate about 16 years ago.
It took him about two years to negotiate the lease. He also has a location in Totem Lake.
An Issaquah man, he gave up the chance to lease the Maple Street building, and has regretted it for six years.
He took his time cleaning up the space. High arching eves, now painted green, circle the building. Tall open windows flood the space with light, and checkered flooring plays with the funky style.
The drive-thru is fitting for the space, as customers can literally circle the building for their drink. He also striped the otherwise oversized and patchy parking lot.
Espresso shots, including the highly-caffeinated white coffee, are hand pressed. The prices are lower than average, but the espresso isn’t lacking.
In addition to the typical cafe fair, Southwell also sells Mondo dogs. The quarter-pound hotdogs are split and grilled.
Looking like a casually dressed lawyer with blue corduroy pants, Southwell sipped his morning espresso at the new cafe.
“Why am I not Starbucks? I wish I was,” he said. “Howard Shultz surrounded himself with good people.”
Southwell had lost his best partner to Lou Gehrig’s disease. Then, still in thought, his demeanor changed a bit and he leaned forward.
If Piccolo’s had made it big, he wouldn’t have had as much time with his family, he said, smiling as he spoke of them. Looking back, “I probably wouldn’t change too many things.”
Bill Southwell has turned the iconic 1960s round building on Maple Street into a coffee shop called Mondos. PHOTO BY CELESTE GRACEY
April Hadeow, left, and Selina Petersen, right, fill a drive thru order at Mondo's, a new cafe in the iconic round Maple Street building. PHOTO BY CELESTE GRACEY
Mondo's makes all its coffee with hand-pressed shots. PHOTO BY CELESTE GRACEY