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Friday, May 14, 2021

Western alumna shares love for coffee and cuisine in Fairhaven

By Rachel Carruth

On a gloomy morning in Bellingham’s historic Fairhaven neighborhood customers shuffle into the Shirlee Bird Cafe to warm up and start their days. Upon opening the door, the smell of freshly baked pastries captivates those passing by as nostalgic music plays softly over an antique radio.

Shirlee Jones, a Western alumna and owner of the cafe, welcomes patrons as if she’s known them forever. She sprinkles her humor into the conversation as she tells a customer about her latest culinary creation.

The cafe’s locally-sourced menu includes a tempting array of hearty sandwiches, grilled paninis, freshly made salads and delicious breakfast combinations.

According to Jones, her culinary journey began in California where she attended culinary school. She said she made the move to Orange County after leaving Western shortly after she began school in 2000.

Along the way, Jones was inspired by mentors like her friend John De Frist who guided her as she envisioned opening her own business one day.

“John De Frist is a great friend of mine and is the one who taught me how to operate a business,” she said. “It’s people and how you love your customers while setting boundaries that’s really important.”

She said years later when she returned to Bellingham to finish her degree at Western, she decided to further cultivate her culinary skills by working at local bakery Avenue Bread.

After Jones graduated with a degree in international relations and psychology, she decided to open the Shirlee Bird Cafe in August of 2015.

Shirlee Jones, owner of the Shirlee Bird cafe, jokes with a customer while preparing a latte. She is wearing a black and white striped shirt and black earrings.
Shirlee Jones, owner of the Shirlee Bird cafe, jokes with a customer while preparing a latte. // Photo by Matthew Tangeman

Jones said she has a drive to serve the freshest homemade creations that will leave people wanting more. The glass case by the counter is filled to the brim with treats both sweet and savory. As customers peer in, their eyes widen as they try to decide which ones to choose.

“When it comes to the basic building blocks of baking, I don’t mess around with what works,” she said.

The Shirlee Bird offers a wide array of coffee drinks as well, which according to Jones, is the lifeblood of many people in the Pacific Northwest and the key to any successful cafe.

She said all the unique coffee drinks she offers her customers use a special blend of Latin American and Sumatran beans from Hammerhead Roasting Company.

Local coffee lover Mike Kempt sits and enjoys his morning coffee as Shirlee helps folks at the counter. He said he likes to try the different coffee shops around the area.

“On Sundays, my coffee is recreational, as opposed to on the weekdays when it is medicinal,” Kempt said.

The look of Jones’ classic, quirky cafe is elevated by the historic Sycamore Square Building in Fairhaven where it’s located. Built in 1890, the building is surrounded by antique shops and cobblestone streets.

Janet Hobbs, a visitor from Vancouver, British Columbia, said she makes a point to stop by the Shirlee Bird whenever she is in town.

“My all-time favorite thing to get here is the curried chicken salad with cashews, celery, green onions and golden raisins mixed with arugula pesto and tossed with a tangy mango chutney vinaigrette and served over fresh kale,” said Hobbs. “It’s absolutely delicious.”

When it comes to the future, Jones said she is happy where she is and doesn’t foresee opening up another cafe any time soon.

“I built myself a job when I created this place,” Jones said. “I really can’t imagine having another cafe because I would want to be there all the time. This is my passion, my heart and soul is all over this one.”

The Shirlee Bird Cafe is located at 1200 Harris Ave. and is open from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. everyday.

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