When the ice storm hit, the power went out. Employees dug up candles and spread them around the restaurant. The customers didn’t want to leave because it was cold and dangerous outside.
Inside, it was warm, and good food was plentiful. A waitress sat down at the piano and played. People snuggled closer together and stayed for hours.
That’s the type of memory Espresso Delizioso inspires.
The cafe that has served up incredible pots of French press coffee, authentic Italian cuisine and an eclectic array of live music closed two weeks ago after 14 years in business.
“It’s the most unique place Spokane will ever have,” said Elizabeth Kercher, a former employee. “It was just something comfortable. People would come for a good conversation because we didn’t mind how long they stayed.”
The cafe drew a varied crowd, from lawyers in expensive suits to teenagers with purple hair, body piercings and tattoos.
On Wednesday, the business at 703 N. Monroe will auction off its restaurant equipment, furniture and antiques in an effort to repay some of the owners’ $90,000 debt. Typical restaurant items, such as a 10-burner gas stove, a three-head espresso machine, and rows of plates, glasses and chairs will be sold.
The treasured antiques that adorned the cafe’s walls will be harder for owners Robert and Katherine Shambhalla to part with: wooden carvings of a king and queen purchased at the Frederick and Nelson auction when the downtown department store closed, two plush red velvet chairs, and numerous or nate gold framed mirrors.
The Shambhallas are ill and no longer able to run Espresso. They tried for a year and a half to sell it, but couldn’t find buyers. Three young employees launched a plan to take over, but couldn’t secure financing.
The cafe opened in 1983 in the basement of 123 S. Wall. The Shambhallas lost that lease in 1988 and began to renovate the new location in 1989. Work stopped abruptly when Robert Shambhalla was severely injured in a car accident. The cafe didn’t open until 1991.
Remodeling during those two years while being closed added to the Shambhallas’ debt. The decline of downtown Spokane and a spate of bounced checks, vandalism and theft compounded their financial troubles.
Because of the cafe’s debt, it was frequently short-staffed. The wait staff did everything from greet and seat customers to help cook. Service frequently was slow because everything was made fresh.
“I was always fighting with Robert and Katherine about that,” remembered Lawra Gosselin-Harris, Espresso’s former manager. “I’d say, ‘Why do we have to have that? Why can’t we have hamburgers?”’ Later on, she realized it was the quality of the food that kept people coming back.
“There was everything from a latte up to steak Siciliano, this incredible rolled steak with this amazing stuffing made with veal and capers, cooked in wine with roasted red peppers. It took like 45 minutes,” she said. “I learned how to cook there and now I have a passion for cooking.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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