A dim blue light lit up the bar with neatly stacked bottles of alcohol across the top while the kitchen was buzzing with pots clanking as they prepped dishes of food to be tasted for the first time that night. No stone was left unturned during the preparation, from the placement of the salt shakers to the precision of the chalk calligraphy on chalkboard menus.
“A little to the left, more, a little more,” called out 29-year-old Chris McCoy, Kombucha Town’s CEO, as they were setting up their “Order Here” chalkboard sign above the bar before their soft opening on Jan. 7.
McCoy, a Western graduate with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and economics, founded Kombucha Town, a local kombucha brewery in Bellingham three years ago and opened the Culture Cafe on Friday, Jan. 8; a cafe of fresh and fermented foods, as well as cocktails infused with kombucha.
The concept for the cafe is modeled after breweries and pubs, where dishes are created to complement their kombucha products and kombucha infused cocktails. Kombucha is a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea. McCoy, noted that he was always fond of the brewery scene, but realized it wasn’t a very healthy option. This is where the Culture Cafe came into play.
The making of an alternative cafe
It was after McCoy took a trip to Maui that he became interested in Hawaiian food. The fresh and beautiful concepts around the dishes are what ultimately inspired McCoy to create this cafe, he said.
“I was really entranced by all the great healthy options that were there and was like ‘why isn’t that something that happens in Bellingham or in the Pacific Northwest at all?’” McCoy said.
Recipes came from the team bouncing ideas off of each other and have been very open to feedback from their peers, to make sure the food has a wide appeal. Their goal is to mix comfort and health food, McCoy said.
Another aspect that separates the Culture Cafe from other restaurants is the food and drink is all local and refined organically, no chemicals or preservatives have been added to any recipes or dishes, McCoy said.
They also strive to make these healthy options available to everyone, and have set the menu at reasonable prices, McCoy said. Most dishes are around $6 to $10 with the most expensive at around $12.
“It looks like they have a pretty good menu, it’s not too expensive, so I’m pretty excited about that,” customer Steve Lauver said. “[It’s] great for the college student budget.”
A meal with a side of art
Unlike other bars and breweries, McCoy said he wanted to put a greater emphasis on the community and their art work. The woodworking, metalworking and murals have all created by local Bellingham artists.
“I’m trying to coin the idea of Pacific Maritime. Our menu is very fresh, very oriented around the local, regional offerings,” McCoy said. “Especially with the incorporation of art…that is popular but isn’t that prevalent in a lot of places, especially in bars…tying that all together is going to make it pop.”
McCoy asked local artists to add to the cafe’s design concept.
“I definitely think the design of this space was inspired by our nature oriented culture, all of the woodwork and local art…we got locally sourced wood, I think that has all been directed towards supporting our economy,” Gretchen Leggitt, an artist who painted the mural inside the cafe.
In search for a healthy atmosphere
The soft opening was the first night that most of the food would be made and tasted. Their goal for this soft opening was to get feedback and then recreate dishes based on what people said after tasting the prepared dishes.
Aside from just the menu, the atmosphere itself resembled the Bellingham mantra of outdoors and art. With glazed wood tables, metal working for the seats and bar stools and rustic slabs of wood by the brick walls it is easy to see the influence of nature in the cafe. Chalkboards with handwritten menu items decorate the bar and the personalized art showcases the process of brewing kombucha.
He said he wanted a healthy, but lively option to add to the Bellingham food culture, especially as an alternative during late-night outings. McCoy noted that his work experience in a variety of different restaurants and bars allowed him to understand different types of cuisine and create such a diverse menu.
The unique dishes range from vegan corn dogs to salmon crostini.
“We try to take away a lot of some of the more popular comforting elements from a lot of different types of food, and bring them together in a fresh, invigorating way,” McCoy said
The menu is holistic and health-based; incorporating a wide range of flavors and ingredients that are “fresh, fermented and foraged,” while still being affordable.