A downtown cafe works to normalize eco-friendly practices

By Mathew Roland

ANMLY Café has a business model geared toward sustainability and zero waste. Owned by Emile Diffley, 23, ANMLY is at 119 N. Commercial St., across from the Mount Baker Theatre, and opened in late January this year.

The cafe has five employees and serves coffee with a rotating menu of nutrition-focused food, keeping things fresh and exciting. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. They are closed on Sunday and Monday.

A Bellingham local, Diffley spent about four years after high school traveling the world. He visited places like Asia and Australia, gaining insight into cafe culture along the way. He set a goal to open his own cafe, one that he hoped would deviate from the norm of cafe culture in Bellingham.

From its early stages, Diffley’s business model operated conscientious of environmental impact and aimed to incorporate zero waste practices into its daily operations.

ANMLY is working to minimize waste by eliminating single use cups and plastic lids. They do this with their well known “to-go” system — they use glass jars and reusable to-go containers, which customers can purchase for a small fee. It costs 50cents for a jar and $1 for a to-go container.

“It’s like the old milkman or growler system at a brewery, but applied in a cafe setting,” Diffley said.

The food is made to order to ensure that there are no leftovers at the end of the day that didn’t sell. Bread is sourced locally from Raven Breads, and milk is from Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden. Future goals include more locally sourced foods, Diffley said.

Most customers are used to what they know, which might be a paper cup and a pre-made sandwich, he said. “There is usually an education component for those who are unfamiliar with the cafe’s system, which is really important,” Diffley said.

In addition to their to-go system, the cafe sought other ways to minimize waste. A majority of the cafe’s furniture is either repurposed, thrifted or from the REStore. Stools are made from old rope spools and re-used from old restaurants. Bar tops are from the REStore, and end tables are made from repurposed tile. Store merchandise such as shirts and hats are thrifted and rebranded to minimize the waste involved in fast-fashion.

Cassity Robinson, 28, from Seattle, visited the cafe because of good reviews on Yelp.com. “I think it’s pretty great,” she said. “It’s repurposed with a purpose.”

Being orientated toward zero waste can be both good and bad for the bottom line — it’s a balance, Diffley said. For example, big catering jobs or delivery systems can be restricted if the cafe is to stay in line with its values, he said.

“When reusables are put on a deposit, it’s an incentive for guests to come back. So while our main focus is to minimize waste, we also see a very high percentage of return guests, which simply means more sales,” Diffley said. “As for the costs included in what we do, it’s a potential short-term loss but long-term gain. If these jars or boxes are re-used even a handful of times, that makes up for what the cost of a paper or plastic cup or box would be.”

A recent example of how some businesses are adopting zero waste policies is grocery stores that don’t sell plastic bags. The change took time, but now its either “I pay for a bag or I bring my own” — a very normal thing, Diffley said.

“When it’s more than just us, I think that’s when the change will start to occur,” Diffley said. “When more people do it, it causes that chain reaction of it becoming a normal thing.”

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