Sazón De Washington: Olé Cafe

Olé Cafe, which only allows Spanish speaking in their shop, opened its doors again earlier this year after a long hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Recently, eight Spanish speakers seeking to expand their skills nestled into some couches and chairs arranged in a circle just left of the cafe’s front door. Laughter and chatter rang out in the intimate space as students sipped their coffee. 

Olé Cafe first opened in June 2019 as a place for Spanish speakers and students to immerse themselves in the language and Spanish culture. According to the cafe’s Meetup page, the owner offers a wide variety of social events, such as group meetings, karaoke, trivia nights, book clubs, and knitting groups. 

On Olé  Cafe’s coffee menu, you can order a latte, americano, cappuccino, mocha, cafe con leche or a cortado. The primary focus of this cafe is speaking Spanish, so the coffee menu is purposefully simple.

Amanda Reichert is the owner of Olé Cafe and works as a full time barista. Simultaneously, she teaches Spanish to her students in the backroom of the cafe. (Photo by Saida Nor)

Amanda Reichert, owner of Olé Cafe, has been teaching Spanish in Seattle since 2008 and originally used the cafe space just for her Spanish school, Vamonos Spanish Center. But, then, she thought: 

“What if I had a place where you couldn’t speak any English, and they could come get a coffee before class,” Reichert said. “That’s kind of how it started formulating.”

Classes at Vamonos Spanish Center are quarterly, and students sign up online. The cafe was initially started for the students to come to practice what they learned with their peers. 

“Immersion is the only way to actually become fluent. You can learn vocabulary and grammar, but if you’re not immersed, your brain doesn’t switch over,” Reichert said. “In the classes, it’s all immersion. No English, same as the cafe.” 

Reichert started learning Spanish when she was 12 years old and had to pick a foreign language in her middle school. Ever since then, she’s been hooked. Her love of Spanish music and culture led her to graduate with a Spanish degree and later to live in Mexico and Spain. 

During her time abroad, she realized the importance of immersion when studying a foreign language. “When you can’t always rely on English, that is where you see the most progress,” Reichert said. 

Soon after opening Olé  Cafe, Reichert wanted the community to also benefit from this space. 

“There’s another woman who just moved here from Spain a couple months ago. She married her American husband, and she’s having a really hard time transitioning. She found me online and just walked in, and she’s like, ‘I feel like I’m home’,” Reichert said. “She comes every day, and now she’s my friend.” 

Olé Cafe does not allow cell phone or computer use, and there is no Wi-Fi. These rules encourage people to interact with other Spanish speakers and students of all levels. 

“There’s different people everyday that come in. I have customers like David, who had been a student for a year and then when I opened the cafe, he was my number one fan,” Reichart said. 

David Prince made a pact to himself to come to the cafe once a week to practice his Spanish. (Photo by Saida Nor)

David Prince would often drive past Olé Cafe to check if it reopened. The first day Olé Cafe opened its doors again, Prince walked in and rejoiced. He had been waiting four years for its return. 

“I taught mathematics at the University of Washington in the engineering department. When you teach mathematics, your mind is always challenged. When I was getting ready to retire, I was beginning to worry what I was going to do to challenge my mind?” Prince said. “One of the things I have always wanted to do was really learn Spanish.” 

After Prince retired, he began his quest to learn Spanish on Duolingo for a couple of years before signing up for classes at the Vamonos Spanish Center. Reichert was widely recommended when he sought help from his neighborhood app, Nextdoor. 

“A Spanish-only speaking cafe is a really nice idea because the focus is Spanish and it’s a very friendly environment. Reichert wants people to speak Spanish no matter what their level is,” Prince said. “Today, I am meeting several new people. We’re all at different levels, so we help each other out when we get stuck.” 

According to Reichert, every piece of decor in the cafe is Spanish. “I like how Olé Cafe is set up. When you walk in here, it’s like a visual immersion,” Prince said. “You’re immersed in Spanish culture.”

The most popular food items at Olé Cafe are tapas and Spanish tortillas. The almond cake on the menu is from Galicia, where Reichert lived in Spain.

“We don’t really have a lot of places in Seattle representing Spain,” Reichert said. “I wanted to do something a little different, and that’s how I came up with the idea of a Spanish tapas cafe.” 

Olé Cafe is open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. 

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Olé Cafe

Saida Nor

Saida Nor is a graduating senior at the University of Washington, majoring in journalism and public interest communications. A passionate world traveler with a deep appreciation for diversity in all its forms, Saida crafts both news and arts & culture stories that illuminate the experiences of underrepresented communities.

Publisher’s Notes: Washington Latino News and a class in the Journalism and Public Interest Communication program at the University of Washington are partners in best serving the Hispanic and Latino communities.