Brad’s Swingside Caféis a 24-year-old cozy Italian restaurant near my home in Seattle that makes it feel like you’re eating at a friend’s house. Lending to the homey feel, at closing time, owner and chef Brad Inserra lets his dogs, Lucky and Finn McGinty, saunter into the tiny restaurant adjacent to his home. The wood-paneled place’s décor—black-and-white photos of Roberto Clemente, jazz musicians and a little tabletop Madonna statue—reveals Inserra’s Pittsburgh-area roots and love of baseball, music and more.
When the quirky nearly-60-year-old wisp of a chef has time, he might stop by your table to chat—about baseball or topics alike—and we’ve become friends. But it’s the well-priced food—Italian “with Sicilian-Greco-North African overtones,” earning fine Zagat ratings—that really amazes. The experience is all the better on nights when local folk singer Jim Page or other musicians take a table in the corner to play.
My husband would say if his journalism career didn’t work out, he’d start a small café. And it is by watching Inserra work every single day—how he makes his life his business, going late into the night, day in and out, vacations a rarity—that he has absorbed the fallacy of romanticizing starting such a business. That hard work is what made Swingside an institution in Seattle’s gentrifying Fremont neighborhood. One of the café’s neighbors, a dive bar that used to attract a biker crowd, closed its doors and became a trendy purveyor of New Orleans cuisine.
And now Swingside, too, is on the way out. The financial pressures of the recession, a divorce and hospital bills from a month-long stay a few years ago, he told the Seattle Times, have prompted Inserra to sell his property for redevelopment. He could choose to open a restaurant in the new project, which is expected to take a couple of years to build, but he is weighing other possibilities. One option—he may move to Sicily.
For now, it’ll be February or March 2015 when Brad’s Swingside Café doors will close and Inserra will serve his last eggplant caponata or signature aglio e olio.
Brad’s Swingside Café
4212 Fremont Ave. N
Seattle, WA 98103
Small Business Saturday is this weekend, and it’s your chance to show support for your favorite local businesses—so their doors can stay open. Get inspired to shop small with another Main Street Favorite—one that’s piled high with rare books.
Editor’s note: This article is one in a series highlighting Small Business Saturday, a U.S.-nationwide event that encourages shoppers to buy locally on Saturday, Nov. 29. SUCCESS is celebrating by showcasing some of our favorite small businesses around the country—what makes them special to us, why we keep coming back and why we want them to stick around. Will you join the movement to support your favorite neighborhood shop?