#1.8 Jill Killen: Running Three Small Coffee Shops in a Big Coffee Town

Jill Killen owns three beloved coffee shops in the city of Seattle.

Cloud City Coffee

El Diablo

Royal Drummer

Back in the early 2000s, the local coffee shop in the Maple Leaf neighborhood burned down on Thanksgiving morning.  In the years before Starbucks placed a store on every corner, Maple Leaf was in need for a new coffee shop and Jill decided to go for it.

Cloud City Coffee opened its doors with a goal of serving the community.  From providing a high quality product to providing $1 drip coffee, Jill wants to welcome everyone from the neighborhood regardless of their financial status.  Cloud City even has a local homeless man who comes for the $1 drip and customers make sure his coffee card is always full.

The economics of owning a small business in Seattle are challenging despite the number of high-income earners in the area.  Jill supports the $15/hr minimum wage but the realities of that measure also put pressures on her coffee shops.  One solution she sees is to possibly cut hours and run a lean staff.

The vibe of each of her stores:

Cloud City Coffee:

  • Opened in 2002
  • Maple Leaf
  • Welcoming to all people
  • $1 drip coffee
  • Kid friendly
  • Good meeting space

El Diablo:

  • Queen Anne
  • Purchased in 2012
  • Cuban theme
  • Beer and wine offered
  • Remodeled back patio (Where Jill was married!!)
  • Working towards making it a specialty coffee shop

Royal Drummer:

  • Opened in 2016
  • Ballard
  • Named after Parisian café from 1760s
  • Focused on the craft of the coffee
  • All welcome but geared towards coffee geeks
  • The coffee beans served rotates between various local roasters

What makes a good cup of coffee?

However you like it is the best way to make it!  Jill prefers black coffee herself.  The equipment at her stores is designed to produce the same cup of coffee over and over again.  French press brew method is great if you like a heavier body.  Any filtered method produces a ‘cleaner’ cup of coffee.

And if you like vanilla lattes, pumpkin spice or heavy cream…Jill’s stores love to make quality versions of those drinks too.

Coffee Culture:

Seattle has a wonderful café culture where you don’t have to search for coffee and people actually connect personally over coffee in the cafés.  8 new indie coffee shops opened in October so Seattle is definitely a supportive city for upstart coffee shops. 

Jill lived through the mid-2000s boom as a small business owner and survived the crash of 2008.  She sees a few parallels between our current economic boom and the past.  She feels like her shops are well positioned to ride out a flat economic with initiatives such as the $1 drip coffee and the commitment to taking care of her customers.

What are Jill’s greatest hopes for Seattle? She hopes we figure out affordable housing and the homeless situation. 

Jill sees a little too much “Not in My Back Yard” syndrome as the city grows so she worries that may continue in the future.  As the city grows, she wants people to welcome new comers and growth in a healthy way.  She will continue to vote in any transit options put in front of her and views transportation as a major component to a growing, well-rounded city.  Her employers struggle to get to work and a well-thought out transit system will go a long way to helping people on the lower end of the economic spectrum.

What’s Jill’s go-to cup of coffee? Americano