After nearly four years at their original location on Commercial Street in downtown Bellingham, Banter Hospitality will be closing the location in mid-November. Their Prospect Street location, called Banter After Hours, will become the new headquarters for owner Emile Diffley’s operation.
Banter is the creative culinary endeavor that Diffley has been working on perfecting for years, specializing in fresh ingredients, bowls and burritos. The original Banter location exists in the Bellingham Towers building owned by Hollander Investments, a family-owned company run by Mark Hollander. Diffley said the lease was terminated so Banter Hospitality’s current space could be used for offices. In response, he has decided to merge Banter Hospitality’s business into the After Hours location, which opened in March of this year.
“We essentially need to slowly break down the cafe space and equipment in order to vacate the space in accordance with our lease whilst simultaneously trying to keep staff paid and transitioning to our Prospect Street location,” Diffley said in an email.
Part of this transition includes closing Banter Hospitality on Sundays. A third existing Banter location in Fairhaven will be open for weekend brunch to compensate.
Diffley noted that renting to a restaurant isn’t ideal for Bellingham Towers from a profit standpoint.
The nature of a restaurant lease coupled with necessities to run the business, such as ventilation and fire code compliance, make it hard to economically accommodate a cafe in a building like the Towers, said Richard Eggemeyer, a retired commercial real estate agent.
“The cafe pays its rent on time, but it also requires a lot more from the building in terms of maintenance, wear and tear and utilities, so it makes sense as a financial decision,” Diffley said.
Still, Diffley said he was a bit disappointed.
“We have invested a lot of time, money and energy into the cafe with the anticipation that we would renew the lease and keep it rolling,” Diffley said.
Banter Hospitality receives a significant amount of traffic from Towers commercial tenants and visitors. Diffley said he likes to think that Banter is a reason tenants and guests enjoy being in the building. With that said, downtown Bellingham has an ample number of coffee shops within walking distance of the towers, with the After Hours location being right around the corner.
“The market has changed,” Eggemeyer said. “In other words, is it the only game in town, or do I now have choices as a consumer? That same dynamic works with landlords.”
Despite having other options available, some Towers commercial tenants feel the loss – Larissa Stewart, owner of Clover Mini Spa, among them.
Stewart said she usually stops in once or twice a week for lunch or a weekend coffee.
“Honestly, I won’t make it to Banter at all when they leave. I go so often because of how convenient and special it is to have right there in the building,” she said.
Stewart thinks her clients will also feel the loss.
“Most of my clients will pop in before or after their appointment; a lot of time they’re treating themselves to come see me, and they love tacking on a treat from downstairs too,” Stewart said.
To Diffley, one of the hardest parts about this sudden transition is that the Commercial Street location is sentimental to those who have been staff and customers.
“It has transitioned in so many ways over the years, so many different teams, customers – and truly held on to survive throughout the course of the pandemic; the emotional energy that has gone into it feels like one of the biggest losses,” Diffley said.
Be that as it may, Diffley said the new location is a beautiful space with a much larger kitchen and seating capacity, which will allow Banter to be more creative with its products.
Diffley hopes that the After Hours location will benefit as customers become more aware that Banter has moved to the space, and offers not only morning service but also an evening experience. After Hours is currently a 21+ establishment but will be open to all ages as soon as licensing/permits allow.
Merging the two businesses creatively and physically will involve retraining of staff, resetting menus, and significant behind-the-scenes work that essentially constitutes restarting the business, Diffley said. Ultimately, the new and improved Banter experience will be more cost effective, and more efficient in the long run.
A garage sale of surplus items from the old location is tentatively set for the first couple weeks of November. Updates on this will be posted to Banter’s Instagram.
Diffley does not plan to open a new location in the near future. His present focus is to smoothly transition and make the After Hours location as successful as possible.
“I have A LOT of fun ideas of how to expand if that's something we want to do, but oftentimes I've got to reel it back in and make sure the locations and things that are operational are set up for success before taking on something new,” he said in an email.
Zoe Wiley (she/her)
(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a news reporter for The Front and a combined environmental studies and journalism major at WWU. Her reporting interests include local business news, social issues, the environment and the arts. She enjoys illustration arts, photography, hiking and running.