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Eltana Bagel Cafe, CHOP
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A Seattle bagel shop in the heart of CHOP is ‘hungry for justice’

Eltana Bagel in Capitol Hill. (Facebook)

What’s life like for businesses that exist within the zone of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (or CHOP)? Eltana, a Montreal-style bagel shop is right in the thick of things.

“We are on 12th, right at the intersection of Pine, directly across from the building that was the East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department,” said Stephen Brown, president of Eltana. “At the beginning, it was the site of significant protests that involved clashes between the police and the gathered protesters.”

At that time, before CHOP was established, it was difficult for customers and even employees to get through the police barricade to enter the cafe.

“Before we opened, I would find a sergeant on duty and try and brief her about our hours of operation, and whether she could inform her officers that our customers were going to be arriving and would they please let them in.”

Brown says last weekend was the most business he’s had since the COVID-19 quarantine started, thanks to what he calls “CHOP tourists,” who visit the area to take photos and get a dose of the social and political experiment. Brown has made an effort to support protesters who have taken up residence at CHOP and, frustrated with how slow the process of change has been, he’s set up incentives for his customers to donate to causes dedicated to equality.

“In the morning, we take bagels out to whomever is at the [free] food station [inside CHOP],” Brown said. “But we’ve been trying to do more structured things to support systemic change. We’ve been offering a program where our customers can make a donation to any racial justice organization they want, we give them a list of four or five on our website, and if they make a donation of $25 or more they get a half dozen free bagels. If they go and dine at any black-owned restaurants in the city, and they bring in the receipt, we give them a half dozen bagels and a tub of cream cheese, which is about a $20 value. Anybody who walks in and says, ‘I’m hungry for justice’ gets a free bagel and spread.”

Eltana is the only CHOP-adjacent business that hasn’t boarded up its windows, and Brown says the decision was intentional. He knows it’s not good for business to have his windows covered, and he and his staff feel more comfortable being able to see what’s happening outside. But CHOP isn’t good for business either.

“It does hurt our business,” Brown noted. “On the weekends it was busy, but during the week it’s much quieter because our customers, some of them, are reluctant to come down. My heart goes out to businesses that are not like ours in their product and structure.”

“We sell a breakfast item that is very portable and most protesters do their protesting in the evening,” he continued. “But if you were to run a restaurant that is evening oriented or requires people to arrive by car, it’s very disruptive. It’s disruptive for us as well, but our company is willing to do what we can and support systemic change. If I could look into a crystal ball and say this CHAZ/CHOP was going to be a tangible step in forcing systemic change in our city and our country, I’m all for it. But of course I don’t have that crystal ball so I don’t know if this particular tactic is working or will work. But I’m willing to do my part, which is basically suffer a little loss of business.”

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