Puerto Rican coffee shop owner describes armed robbery attempt by drug dealer

Opening a new business during the COVID pandemic in a section of downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square that had been boarded up for months is a feat under any circumstances.

But Puerto Rican coffee roaster Robert Rodriguez was so confident in his high-altitude-grown beans and previous success on the Caribbean island that he followed his college-age son to the U.S. mainland in December 2021. It’s where he opened his Yellow Butterfly Coffee shop in March.

Aromas from Rodriguez’s beans – dried in the tropical sun for at least 30 days – waft from his business daily on Third Avenue near Jefferson Street.

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That was until Thursday morning, when Rodriguez had to temporarily close his shop when an alleged drug dealer – who has been living and selling drugs outside the front door to Rodriguez’s café for months – threatened him with a gun after demanding $50,000.

“When I first met him in December, I introduced myself,” Rodriguez told Dori Monson Show listeners. “He was selling drugs out of my front door. ‘Can you please find another place to do what you do?’ I asked him. He said that he was going to move once I opened the business.”

For three months, Rodriguez said he asked the drug dealer, “ ‘Can I go inside my coffee shop?’ ” while the startup businessman painted and prepared for the grand opening in hopes that his mother and son could both attend. The dealer, he added, would continue to sit on a chair right outside his door, one block from the King County Courthouse, and sell drugs.

Rodriguez told Dori that downtown Seattle’s lawlessness has him stumped – especially because local homeless people know him as someone who gives “free food to guys. They understand I just want to bring my coffee brand to the next level. I’m a friendly guy.”

He is especially proud that his son – who recently graduated from Pacific Lutheran University – joined him at Yellow Butterfly Coffee.

“He wants to come and help the business, so I tell him ‘let’s do it. This is your time to see what you learned in college,’ ” Rodriguez said he told his son.

Early reviews have been especially strong for the shop. Still, he noted, some customers have been reluctant to pass by the drug dealer to enter his coffee shop. “Even my mom, she was a little uncomfortable when she came,” Rodriguez added.

But the distinctive flavors and aromas of Yellow Butterfly Coffee drinks have attracted local workers, including police officers, lawyers, and other courthouse workers, creating a strong early following at the startup business.

That’s why Rodriguez locked up his shop and walked directly to the King County Courthouse after the Thursday morning armed robbery attempt. Officials there sent a police officer to the scene, where Rodriguez said the suspect was chased until he was apprehended. Officials advised Rodriguez to get a restraining order against the suspect – but even that might not be enough to resolve the problem.

“One of the sheriffs who works for the jail said right now they cannot arrest somebody for trespassing,” Rodriguez added. “I don’t know what’s going on with our leaders.”

“It is very shameful how our leaders know (because the suspect) … shows me he has been here for five years and has been selling illegal products and nothing happens to him.”

“It’s nuts,” Rodriguez said. “It’s nuts.”

Listen to Dori Monson weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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