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Snohomish County's Catalyst Café to reopen

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Catalyst Cafe
Catalyst Cafe

In June of 2023, the Catalyst Café in Everett moved to a new location on the lively Hewitt Avenue. Almost one year later, though not quite ready for full operation, it is well on its way, renovating the interior and hosting drag and burlesque shows in the evenings. From the attractive blue storefront to the joyful murals by local Queer artists lighting up the walls, the space — which is three times the size of its predecessor — feels charged with potential energy.

"I've wanted to own a café forever," said owner Adair Gearhart. "I love serving people, and feeding people." Gearhart, who had been a president of PFLAG's Everett chapter for years, said they wanted to find a way to combine that love with their volunteer work, and Catalyst was the result.

In addition to being a café, Catalyst has always acted as a hosting space for Queer performances and public officials alike. The goal was be of service in as many ways as possible: providing a safe space, supplying resources, and encouraging community action.

Some of its regular functions included weekly Trans.Formation meetings, "Queeraoke," Friday Night Magic the Gathering meets, and drag storytime. Gearhart's hope for the new space is to expand upon these activities, adding things like D&D nights, writing workshops, and a local maker market. "On our days off," they said, "I'm going to bring in sewing supplies and teach our performers how to make their own outfits."

Persistence in the face of adversity
The horizon is promising, but the road was not easy. The day Gearhart's previous landlord saw Pride flags inside the café, their working relationship crumbled, replaced by suspicion and an unwillingness to pay for necessary repairs. Catalyst also was subject to harassment for its drag storytime. At one such storytime, a group of white cis men wearing plate carriers ganged up outside the café, staring from their truck beds across the street. Gearhart was even threatened by Gays Against Groomers, a Gay-led group that believes drag storytime is part of a larger agenda to sexualize children.

By far the biggest roadblock seemed to be funding. "I was supposed to get a $25,000 grant for Queer food service owners," Gearhart said. "I applied and got told in mid-May, 'You're in. You should have your money by the end of June.' Great, I thought, I'm gonna have this done in no time." Dependent on this grant, they initiated the move, but after months of no response, they discovered none of the grants ever went out.

Despite these challenges, Gearhart never lost sight of their goal. "I started on what I could do: I bought paint." They channeled their thrifting and upcycling skills from their experience growing up poor. "Filling the space in a way that feels intentional takes a long time, but it saves money," they said. Crowdsourcing was also key: they received several donations of appliances, furniture, and even board games. With help from patrons, as well as Traction and the GSBA, reinvigorating the new space was quite literally a labor of love. (Catalyst's Amazon wish list is still up on all its social media accounts, by the way.)

Already, people have come walking in, looking for food (even a few times during our talk). Gearhart hopes to be ready to open in time for Everett's second-ever Pride this year.

As one of the very few places in Everett for drag, and with neighboring businesses like Tony V's that have voiced their support, Catalyst seems set to thrive on Hewitt. "All the local businesses here have been super kind," Gearhart said. "This is such a cool area, and I'm excited to be a part of this neighborhood. There is so much opportunity."

Adair Gearheart — Photo by Shelby Olson  

Serving the community
Catalyst is also one of the few Queer spaces that does not serve alcohol. "This is my opinion," they said, "but if you're opening a business to serve the Queer community, and you choose to serve alcohol, you're doing it wrong. You're not providing a service, you're just taking their money."

One of Gearhart's plans for the new space is to create support groups. "We need a place to build and grow community in a more healthy way," they said. Many patrons were newly sober people, who enjoyed meeting in a safe, dry space; the new location features private, curtained-off areas for this purpose. The care put toward these details — like the decorative acoustic tiles on the wall, which double as a sensory buffer — form part of this commitment to serving the community.

The menu also reflects this attitude. It was about "creating a spot that really puts the long-neglected parts of the community front and center, in a way that feels like they're being appreciated," Gearhart said. "We have this diverse menu that's very customizable." At least 80% is or can be made gluten free, sugar free, and vegan.

Part of making the menu accessible is avoiding upcharges. "I price everything based on the most expensive option, and then average it out. Someone doesn't choose to have celiac — why should they have to pay more for a smaller sandwich?"

The coffee and baked goods are also sourced from local, Queer-friendly businesses. "There are so many great local businesses, and I want more people to know about them," Gearhart said.

Places like this are essential in Snohomish County. "The [Queer] community exists here, but it's so wildly underrepresented," Gearhart said. "I want to come in and be frankly kind of obnoxious and loud, like, 'We're here, bitch!'" They gestured to the giant Pride flags on the wall. "I want Queer people to walk in the front door and know, 'I belong here, this is for me.' And let some of that mask down and settle into being their genuine self. And for the ones who are kind of on the fence [about the flags], I want them to come out thinking, 'Oh okay, that wasn't bad at all,' to make things that much easier for the Queer people in their lives."

Catalyst has always been focused on effecting meaningful change and support for the community. True to its namesake, it continues to be a place for connections to form and grow.