By Whitney Carter
I remember the first time I was allowed to walk to Mill Creek Town Center with my friends. I was in the sixth grade. The Town Center is about a block from the middle school, and my friends and I were so excited. We were on our own in our big city. Big is relative of course. The actual area of our “big city” is less than 5 square miles.
In our young, impressionable minds, we had made it. The Town Center had only been around for a couple of years at this point and we had only been with our parents before. The Town Center is a few blocks long and it is filled with all kinds of restaurants and stores.
On that first trip on our own, we spent the afternoon wandering in and out of the Town Center’s brightly-lit shops, munching on goodies from its restaurants and ending our adventure with ice cream from the Spotted Cow, a locally owned coffee and ice cream shop. During the holiday season, they sometimes have an ice cream that includes a full thanksgiving dinner. Try at your own risk!
The Spotted Cow is a Mill Creek staple. I go at least once every time I go home and never fail to run into at least a handful of my classmates from high school and even a teacher or two. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel like you’ve been there before, like you’re home now. The atmosphere is lively. It is filled with light music alternative music, warm brown and tan colors and comfortable overstuffed chairs. I highly recommend their spiced chai, which is my usual drink, but their slogan suggests you “stray from the herd.” The cafe has a wide array of coffees that they roast themselves. They also have a “slow Bar [which] is equipped with Chemexes, V60s and Aeropresses.”
One of the best places for a light snack is Clay Pit. I think my mom is singlehandedly keeping them in business because she will stop in for their warm, flaky Naan (an oven baked flatbread that is common in Indian cuisine) and hot and spicy chai as often as she can. It’s completely understandable as both the Naan and the chai are the perfect complement to the constant drizzle of the Seattle area.
For local resident Kathy Spring, the Town Center is an excellent place to get lunch or dinner. However, she implored me not to ask what her favorite restaurant was.
“Don’t ask me that!” she said with a laugh, but went on to say that for lunch she loves the Firestation Gourmet Deli. It has recently moved locations and it is owned by the Duros family. The restaurant is named after the fire department that the Duros lived next to for years.
My hometown is kind of a baby when it comes to towns. It doesn’t have much history, but it has a whole lot of heart and it’s constantly changing. Dustin Haffner, manager of local restaurant Boston’s, mentioned that the Town Center is constantly evolving.
“I remember when it first opened, before all of the buildings were even complete,” Haffner said. “The one constant has been Central Market.”
Mill Creek became a town in 1983 and was built around a golf course and country club. It has grown considerably, even in the last 10 years. When I first moved to Mill Creek in 1996, most of the town was forested and there were even a couple of farms.
In fact, there used to be a buffalo farm near my house. You can tell who has lived in the town for a long time and who is a recent arrival by whether or not they know where the old buffalo farm is. Now, they’ve named a park after the old Buffalo farm. As the city spread and more and more residents moved in, lured to the sweet little suburb by its bustling growth, excellent schools and proximity to Seattle, the buffalo farm had to go.
Town Center was planned in 1992 in response to the fact that the town had no central downtown. Construction started ten years later and businesses moved in a little while after.
The Town Center has become a hub of activity for members of Mill Creek and beyond. I remember when they started construction. I would drive past the work being done on my way to school and my friends and I would whisper and muse on what was going there. All we had were ideas at that point.
Now, it is exciting to see the hustle and bustle that involves my community. The manager of Central Market, a local grocery store, fresh food market and one of the first shops to enter the Town Center describes the new restaurant scene as “diverse.”
“I think it has given the center a variety of choices on what to eat,” Jeff Swanson said. “In some ways, dinner is the larger draw, day time is for shopping and nighttime is for eating. It allows the flow of parking and traffic to dance together.”
He went on to mention that options for fine dining are limited outside of Seattle and Bellevue, but Mill Creek Town Center is changing that.
On my first adventure to the Town Center those many years ago, I didn’t have much appreciation for the dining options, but I think they are a draw to my town. From Mexican, Indian, Italian, Greek, there are so many options, it makes the decision “Where should we go for dinner?” immensely challenging in my sweet little hometown.