Employee Merrideth McDowell (left) and owner Bridget Gallagher (right). // Photo by Christa Yaranon
Nestled on North State Street is the 11th Hour Tea and Coffee Bar, where customers can stop in to grab a drink and take some time to relax. Upon entering, the earthy smell of freshly brewed tea fills the shop as soft music plays in the background, slightly masked by the sound of a whirring espresso machine.
Owner Bridget Gallagher greets patrons with a warm smile. It’s just another quiet day for Gallagher, but nevertheless, she shows gratitude to those who stop inside to chat and support her business.
According to Gallagher, she got her start in business in Denver, Colorado where she worked in retail. After moving to Bellingham in 2004, she put her focus on other personal goals, namely raising her two sons.
The desire to run a business started from a conversation Gallagher had with a friend about her direction in life. Gallagher’s friend mentioned that the owners of a local tea shop, SAKU Tea, were looking for new ownership.
The timing could not have been better.
SAKU Tea owners, Kuros Zahedi and Sandra Loeffelmann, were seeking to sell their building space when Gallagher walked through their doors.
“I just decided to go for it and jump in,” Gallagher said. “But I knew nothing about coffee or tea beforehand.”
From there, Gallagher went through training to learn the art of tea-making and took over SAKU Tea in December 2018.
Under her new direction, Gallagher wanted to start with changing the name to something that was more personal to her. The idea behind its name change was inspired by the eleventh hour, a phrase meaning “at the last moment.”
“I remember thinking I just really needed to start embracing the eleventh hour, so it was kind of a twist in term,” Gallagher said. “I realized that there were more blessings happening under the eleventh hour and that I had to accept it rather than be fearful of it. That’s why I’ve taken on this endeavor. I really embraced it and put everything I had in this business.”
Gallagher said she has a drive to provide a space where others can build relationships and make connections to the community.
“We have some people that come in daily who live around and come chat it up, so that was really what I wanted to focus on,” she said. “Making a connection was really the heart of what I was doing prior to this business.”
Bellingham local and Western alumna Constance Browne is one of the regulars who frequents the shop. She said she thinks that they offer drinks that no other places in Bellingham offer.
“They have fun and delicious tea lattes, which is nice for someone like me who prefers tea to coffee,” Browne said. “I’ve always been treated really nicely there and I love the atmosphere. It’s clean, has a fresh feeling and it’s a great space to focus on your work or chat with a friend.”
11th Hour Tea and Coffee Bar offers a wide array of organic teas, coffee and pastries that are baked in-house. Another focus on the menu are superfood blends, which according to Gallagher, are common in the marketplace.
Although she has been inspired to follow in that direction, she has also put her own unique spin on the trend. One of the drinks offered at the shop is a blue chamomile tea latte, which is a butterfly pea flower that is finely ground in a similar way to matcha. In her version, the drink is blended with chamomile tea.
“That’s one of our signature drinks that’s entirely created by 11th Hour,” Gallagher said. “It’s our blue drink that everyone orders and likes to take pictures of. People can’t get over the color.”
Another unique product offered at the shop is a blend called Immuni Cocoa. The blend has a base of Chaga and Reishi mushrooms and has similar properties to turmeric, helping wth inflammation and de-stressing.
Employee and Western student Merrideth McDowell shares a similar sentiment with Gallagher on working toward their creative vision.
“I guess the gist of what we’re trying to do is more of a developmental stage,” McDowell said. “We’re furthering the image as 11th Hour as its own entity.”
For Gallagher, a focus on the quality of organic beverages and foods is something that is vital to her vision for the business.
“Everything that we put out has to be artisan and even creating an artisan feeling at the shop too,” Gallagher said.
Watching the shop’s growth for the past year, both Gallagher and McDowell expressed their ambitions to expand the business by reaching more customers.
“There’s been engagement that has picked up from time to time, but it’s still a process,” McDowell said.
Given its location in a developing area that doesn’t have many other businesses around, the shop is somewhat hidden.
“We’re in an area where it’s a bit of a dead zone,” Gallagher said. “It’s interesting because every day we’ll get someone in here and go like ‘How long have you guys been here?’ or ‘When did you open?’so I think it’s just going to evolve slowly and we’re building momentum slowly.”
The journey of expanding 11th Hour isn’t fully focused on exposure, but rather on its message.
“It’s just out of compassion,” Gallagher said. “So I think that’s what makes us different, is that everything we do has to be done organically. From the drinks that we offer to our services, it all has to be done in an organic process with a focus on human relationships. It would be nice to have those relationships expand.”
McDowell said she’s observed those authentic relationships firsthand.
“I feel like our customer base right now, they all just love being a part of the process and love talking to Bridget [Gallagher],” McDowell said. “We get engagement through that and people love being able to take part in this journey or know what’s going on and share through word of mouth. It’s just so cool to have that connection with people in the community.”
Wanting to build on relationships, Gallagher hopes to partner with Western since most of her customers are students from the university. The shop has already hosted a few open mic nights for the school’s Poets and Lyricists Society and Gallagher expressed she’d like to hold more similar events on a regular basis.
“I’d want to look into facilitating and hosting more groups here,” Gallagher said. “Maybe even do a late Friday night or something with music — things that would utilize the space in unique ways.”
Her shop has been a place of refuge for students seeking a relaxing place to study or meet up with friends.
“What’s nice about this place is the conversations,” Gallagher said. “I do want to encourage more college students to come study here and just take time for themselves and others. The conversations that take place here, they’re more intimate. It’s kind of nice to witness.”
Looking toward the future, both Gallagher and McDowell said they are happy with the business and strive to maintain the shop’s intimate experience.
“I think it’s a special space because the name holds up to its atmosphere, like crazy things happen here,” McDowell said. “The uniqueness, the energy here and working with Bridget is special. I feel very grateful for that.”
As for Gallagher, she believes that she can only progress with passion and a positive mindset.
“From this journey, I can only move forward by accepting whatever happens next and to always trust that process,” she said.
11th Hour Tea and Coffee Bar is located at 833 N State St. and is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.