New owners take over at Zola’s, promise the same, just more of it

Zola’s will keep “the same funky vibe,” with all the local artwork on the walls, keep brewing up that great coffee from Cafe D’Arte, continue serving up its famed vegan and vegetarian fare, its sandwiches and salads and pizza and cookies and muffins.

Yep, say Matt Noesen, and husband and wife team Mike and Kelley McDermott, collectively known as Zola’s new owners. Former owner Sonia Kessler built a heckuva business, and they’re gonna keep that going.

“We’ll just offer more of it” said Noesen.

Zola’s, Auburn’s popular downtown cafe and eatery at 402 E. Main St., No. 120, officially changed ownership on Feb. 13 after 10 years under the winning hands of Kessler. Kessler, who bought Zola’s from Shawn Griffiths in January 2010 and turned the cafe into a great success, declined to be interviewed for this article.

“Sonia did a great job, she built a niche. We hear it from everybody who comes in here: ‘Are you going to change the vegan?’ No, we’re just going to add to it,” said Mike McDermott.

McDermott says he’ll take care of that necessary paperwork behind the scenes while Noesen handles the cookery. Noesen’s will be the face most customers see from day to day.

Kelley McDermott expects to be there a couple days a week, handling the social media, and Mike, well, he says, he’ll be there when he can wrest time away from running the family’s insurance business.

“In the big picture, we want to keep the same concept, but give it a little bit of our spin,” Noesen explained. “I have many years of culinary experience, I like changing the menu frequently. Obviously, you keep your best sellers on, change other stuff seasonally, all locally grown. We’re going to start working with a purveyor that’s family-owned on East Valley Highway and we’ll get our ingredients from there. Everything from scratch.”

“We also want to reach out and get more of those private parties for the evenings towards November and December and holiday parties,” Noesen said. “We would also like to do a little more entreé-type dinners, stuff that you can take home and heat up yourself, or we can heat it up for and you can take it home, like large quantities of salads. You just get a couple of scoops of that, like what they do at the deli at the grocery stores, but made everyday for you, and I’ll switch it out.”

“Something else we want to take advantage of,” added Mike McDermott. “We have a beer and wine permit, and we want to bring in some local wineries, probably increase that a bit. You know, more of an evening happy-hour-type of thing, with wine, charcuterie boards, things like that.”

New opportunity

All three credited real estate broker Joe Baumann, an old friend, for making the deal possible.

“I got a text from Joe the morning after I found out about this, while I was pumping gas, saying, “Hey, do you want to buy a coffee shop?’ And it just snowballed from there,” said Mike McDermott.

The new owners haven’t decided yet whether to bring in bands and acts again, as Kessler did until October of last year.

Noesen and the McDermotts, are, as their kidding tells you right away, longtime friends dating back to their years at Auburn High School.

“He graduated in 1989,” McDermott joked of Noesen, ”after all, he was 26 when he graduated.”

“And we’re not sure he graduated at all,” Noesen said of McDermott, who graduated in 1990.

Kelley McDermott graduated from AHS in 1991, and the guys gave her no guff about that.

“We’ve all known each other forever,” Mike McDermott said.

Noesen tread an adventurous path from Auburn back to Auburn.

“After college, I accidentally got into a sales job up in Seattle for five or six years before I realized I didn’t want to do that,” Noesen said. “I made a list over the next year about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and it came down to culinary school or golf school. I know how good a golfer I am, so I decided to move to New York and went and studied at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. I called it my early, early mid-life crisis.”

After graduation from culinary school, Noesen went on to 18 years of cooking for restaurants in New York and Aspen, Colo., opened a Japanese Robata restaurant in Mexico – he left that gig when the narco-culture made that area a tourist repellent – cooked for the Artisanal Brasserie in the Bravern in Bellevue and for Lebron Bistro at Carolon Point in Seattle. His most recent gig was as the sole executive chef for Compass, the only full-serve restaurant on that famous Redmond campus.

Gained valuable experience there, he said, cooking up vegan and vegetarian fare for the international crowd of nerds of Microsoft.

“Rich nerds,” Noesen corrects.

Mike McDermott called his own story “exciting, movie-star-like stuff.”


“Kelley and I are in the insurance business,” McDermott said. “My dad, Mike McDermott, was an Allstate agent here in town for 30-plus years, right next to Burger King on Auburn Way South. He got me into the business of insurance and we’ve been doing insurance ever since. We now run an American Family Insurance Agency in Federal Way. So, we’ll be doing that, and this.”

“We’ve been actually looking for a while at getting into other small businesses,” Kelley said. “I have a lot of experience in coffee shops, I worked for about 10 years when I was younger, so I’ve always wanted to have my own coffee shop. So, we’ve always been watching what’s on the market, thinking our life wasn’t crazy enough and we needed to add a little bit more crazy to it, three kids, two businesses.”

Hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.