Much has changed for a Puyallup couple since April, when they were on the verge of losing their home and the popular cafe they own in Sumner.
Ben and Trish Rubke said they struggled for nearly a year to get enrolled in a federally backed home mortgage modification, without which they said they couldn’t afford to keep their house or their business, Beyond the Bridge Café.
Now the Rubkes say they’ve negotiated with Bank of America to save their home, but due to construction scheduled to begin soon in Sumner, they’re moving their business to Sixth Avenue in Tacoma.
Beyond the Bridge Café will soon occupy the empty space at 2717 Sixth Ave. that was formerly home to the Italian restaurant Il Fiasco.
Ben Rubke said last week that they recently grew concerned about major construction at the five-way intersection of Traffic Avenue, Fryar Avenue and Main Street in Sumner.
He said construction could kill their business for a full six months, though Sumner officials estimate the work will be completed sooner.
“Essentially, it’s going to sever us from Sumner,” said Rubke, whose business is located next to the construction zone. “We might actually lose half our business.”
The couple and their four children can’t afford such a disruption, Rubke said. He said they’re in the final stages of getting enrolled in a mortgage modification program, which will lower their monthly payments and keep them in their home.
But part of what they were counting on to make those mortgage payments was their café’s continued success in Sumner. At Beyond the Bridge, they have distinguished themselves by hosting open mike nights and allowing local artists to display their work.
The News Tribune published a story about the Rubkes’ struggles May 1. Hundreds of their customers e-mailed the newspaper in late April to seek help for the couple as they fought to save their home from a foreclosure auction.
“This is the only place where there is really a vibrant community in Puyallup, in Sumner,” 30-year-old Kelda Miller said at the time. “This coffee shop is where I connect to people.”
Despite that devoted following, the café will soon move to Tacoma. Ben Rubke said he’s not sure when it will reopen, but they plan to keep the name, which was derived from the café’s proximity to the bridge connecting Valley Avenue East to Main Street.
Ted Hill, Sumner’s project manager, said the city is doing everything it can to minimize the road work’s effect on nearby businesses. The city met with the Rubkes and other business owners months ago to discuss potential impacts, he said, and officials are requiring the contractor to limit road closures to nighttime.
Sumner City Hall employees will be among those who will miss the lattes and bagel sandwiches, Hill said.
“Some of us are pretty bummed that they’re leaving,” Hill said. “For a lot of city employees, that’s their regular place to eat.”
Miller, who comes to the café daily, said she hopes other community-minded businesses step up to fill its niche – that of “a relaxed, playful, funky public living room,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“It’s too bad the Rubkes can’t financially keep this shop open while opening another location in Tacoma,” she wrote. “Though the (Beyond the Bridge Café) will thrive in Tacoma and already has many Tacoma residents as customers, what will Sumner do?”
Ben Rubke said they can afford the move to the Sixth Avenue retail strip partly through the help of a new investor, whom he declined to name during a phone interview.
The investor’s help will eliminate the couple’s need for a new small-business loan, he said.
Rubke also said the rent at the Sixth Avenue location is lower than what they’ve been paying in Sumner, though he didn’t give specifics.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “The space just kind of fell into line.”
Rubke said he and Trish want to continue running a community-oriented coffee shop that can be a haven for musicians and artists. He said Sixth Avenue in Tacoma is an ideal place for that.
“It’s perfect for what we do – it’s in a walking district with residential around and people who want to engage with their community,” he said.
David Printz, president of the 6th Avenue Merchants Association, said that while many places on Sixth Avenue have live music performances, he’s not aware of any right now with regular open mike nights like the ones at Beyond the Bridge.
“I think they’ll be very well-received,” Printz said.
Rubke said that just because they’re moving the cafe doesn’t mean they’re forgetting the friends they’ve made in Sumner.
“It was because of the connections we made throughout this whole entire course of events that made it so we were destined to come to Tacoma,” he said. “This is why I believe in community: Because when you believe in it, it helps you too.”