It’s 11 a.m. on a Sunday, and the line is out the door at Beth’s Cafe. Seemingly every table is blanketed with hash browns, toast and mountains of eggs, from scrambles to the famous 12-egg omelets served on pizza pans that draw in tourists and hangover survivors alike.
The Green Lake diner is celebrating its 60th anniversary this coming week in cholesterol-packed form, outliving other iconic Seattle dives like the Dog House and the Twin Teepees. The city as a whole, the once grittier stretch of Aurora Avenue where it opened in 1954 and the country’s dining tastes have changed all around it, but the Beth’s crew is still robustly refilling coffee cups and churning through a cluck worthy 450,000 eggs per year. They do it 24/7, literally.
“Consistently good, hearty American breakfasts — I think there will always be a place for that,” said Chris Dalton, who bought the place at 7311 Aurora Ave. N. in 2002 and has nudged it into steadier service without losing its more appealing quirks.
Dalton, a Port Angeles native with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, was looking for a nice and easy breakfast place to manage after working in tech during the dotcom bust. He answered a classified ad selling a breakfast eatery, and realized when he called that the place was Beth’s, with its unforgiving hours and a reputation for late-night craziness.
His first reaction: “My God.”
He knew, though, owning the place wouldn’t be dull — and “it had a lot of potential.”
Over the years, with the help of longtime manager Janelle Snyder and a core crew of employees, he’s worked to make Beth’s more consistent, cleaner — “which is really hard with a building built in the ’30s that’s open 24/7” — and to update the menu “just a little bit around the edges.”
Offerings now include a veggie burger and a fruit plate. (“The first comment I got was ‘You’re going to fry that, right?’ ”) Most baked goods are created in-house, including biscuits, 10-grain loaves and muffins. The cooks make their own corned beef hash. “It was important to me not to be known just as a greasy spoon, but to really show the quality of the food we can make as well. It’s hard to do that when you’re doing things out of cans,” Dalton said.
Even the bottomless cups of coffee are now filled with a not-too-dark blend of pedigreed hometown roast Caffé Vita. “It used to be the epitome of diner coffee, and I was like ‘If I can’t drink it, I’m not going to ask anyone else to drink it,’ ” Dalton said.
The upgrades were inconspicuous enough to slide by regulars instead of pushing them out. The city’s ban on smoking in public places in 2005, though, turned business upside down.
“This used to be one of the smokiest places in Seattle, and people would sit there all night drinking coffee and smoking, and all of a sudden that went away,” Dalton said.
After some tense months, the ban worked in his favor. The hazy air cleared, and families who had once avoided the place came back. The 3 a.m. crowd adjusted to stepping outside for their cigarette breaks. Some 80 percent of the business is now breakfasts, Dalton said, and he’s seen three generations crowd the booths now, telling him things like “I started coming here in the ’50s, and here is my son, and here is his son.”
National fame helped too, when TV crews came calling to film the 12-egg omelet on shows for the Food Network and Travel Channel. (”For the most part people do share it, unless they’ve got the food challenge mentality,” he said.) They’re drawn not just by the food, but by the funky touches like the walls papered floor to ceiling with drawings from customers.
Beth’s was opened in 1954 as a nickel slots gambling parlor by Harold and Beth Eisenstadt, Dalton said, but historical records are sketchy. He believes he’s around the sixth owner, and has old menus stating that “our omelets are legendary,” though it’s not clear when the 12 eggs came in.
When the restaurant is closed for two days over Thanksgiving (it’s also closed Christmas) he does major repairs — new wood flooring this past year, maybe an upgraded grill top next year to replace the tiny wonder now in service — but there isn’t too much he’s looking to change about the enduring 105-seat place.
“I love spinach and feta in my eggs as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just want bacon and eggs, and that’s what we do well. We don’t do the fancy stuff.”
The Beth’s 60th anniversary celebration will start Monday, June 2, with a portion of proceeds going to the nonprofit Treehouse organization. Events include a menu insert with ’50s prices (good through June 8), a ’50s-themed party for those 21 and over starting at 8:30 p.m. June 7 at the neighboring Duck Island Ale House (costumes encouraged) and a drawing contest (winners announced June 9.)
Note: Updated May 28 with more details on the celebration.