“In stressful times, I turn to pie.”
For Dani Cone ’98, this comment reflects both a self-help technique and a business strategy.
In 2005, Cone successfully inserted herself in the Seattle market with Fuel Coffee, a celebrated coffee shop with three locations, but when the economic recession hit in 2008, she started to think she needed something fresh. High 5 Pie, her second venture, was born from this time of uncertainty.
In 2016, Cone transitioned ownership of High 5 Pie to an accountant friend who could continue to grow the business further, and set out to launch her current and most-expansive venture: Cone & Steiner general stores. With three stores in different Seattle neighborhoods, and plans for more, the project feels like the culmination of Cone’s earlier work.
The stores bring together all the things that have made Cone successful in the past: Fuel-branded coffee bars, delicious baked goods, housemade specialties and wonderful assortments of locally sourced foods, staples and knickknacks — plus Cone’s intuitive sense for place and community.
“Aside from getting provisions, local general stores were always the places where you’d run into each other, talk and get the news,” Cone says. “When I travel somewhere, I love going to the local store, not the big box — that’s where you see who lives there, what they’re eating, what they’re talking about.”
Revival of a grand idea
A century ago, back when friendly general stores were the norm, Cone’s great-grandfather, Sam, and his brother-in-law, Mr. Steiner, ran such a neighborhood cornerstone. As soon as Cone decided on a similar concept, she found the idea of reviving the name irresistible.
She updated a classic idea, bringing it in line with modern lifestyles but recognizing timeless needs. Completely at home in this nostalgic business model, she doesn’t insert stores into neighborhoods so much as extend the neighborhood to within her store walls.
People don’t go to Cone & Steiner because they want everything. Instead, they go because they want just the right things — distinctive coffee, desserts, sandwiches and lunches, and a magical thing called Garden Toast (“locally made Sea Wolf Seeded Sourdough bread, toasted with house-made herb cream cheese, house-made tomato jam, avocado slices, micro greens and light house-made balsamic drizzle”).
In a way, the main product at Cone & Steiner isn’t really food at all, but a series of less-orchestrated experiences: random run-ins with friends and neighbors, the chance to try things that stretch your palate a little bit, a space to be yourself, and a staff and community you can count on.
The original Misters Cone and Steiner would be nodding right now, save, maybe, for the avocado toast.
“Everybody eats,” Cone likes to say. “We give them a place to do it that makes them feel welcome. This is a place where people come together over good food and drink, where you can sit and stay for a while.”
By popular demand, Cone & Steiner is also launching new e-commerce and delivery services, which aim to provide the same small-batch food and handy local goods that have made the brick-and-mortar stores so popular.
THE WILLAMETTE NEIGHBORHOOD
Cone says she got a lot of know-how from her business economics major, but the real preparation in college came from all her other Willamette experiences: Working at the Bistro, meeting people from different backgrounds, practicing effective communication and cooperation.
“Willamette was the right place for me, in so many ways,” she says. “It really allowed me to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do.”
The “who” and “what” of that statement continue to evolve. Cone will probably keep launching new ventures — it’s in her nature — but when she does, it will be in service of those old values that still hold true: community, connection, a sense of place in a hectic world. And, of course, good food and drink.
This article was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Willamette magazine as part of a larger article, “The GOOD food and drink guide: Alumni serve up satisfying fare — and solutions for social issues.” Erik Schmidt is a freelance writer in Denver.