By Emily Hamann
The Bellingham Business Journal
Driving down Prospect Street in Bellingham, the actual building is hard to miss. But its new tenant might be a little hard to find.
Bellingham Cider Company opened in February in the former Cascade Laundry Building, at 205 Prospect St. It’s the same building that was painted bright orange and now houses the in-progress Sylvia Center for the Arts.
The community arts and theater space takes up the front of the building. The cider company’s restaurant and brewpub is in the back. Patrons can park to the side of the building on the right, or they can walk down the narrow street between the Modern Classics furniture store and the Whatcom Museum Education Center to the back of the Cascade Laundry building, where the brewpub overlooks the bay and the Maritime Heritage Park.
“We don’t get a lot of drive-by traffic,” Head Chef Dirul Shamsid-Deen said. “People come here with intention.”
Shamsid-Deen has helped open six restaurants all over the world, and was given free reign to create a menu including dishes to share family-style and single-person entrees, using ingredients “thoughtfully sourced,” from nearby when possible.
Many of the family-style dishes feature vegetables as the focus.
That idea is catching on as people are getting used to it, co-founder and General Manager Bryce Hamilton said.
“People don’t think to come to a restaurant and order a plate of cauliflower,” Hamilton said, “but once they do they do it again.”
Shamsid-Deen makes nearly everything in-house, even including some of the fresh cheeses. All the food is prepared fresh, no freezers or microwaves in sight. And to prove it, they chose to leave the kitchen open behind a half-wall to the rest of the dining room.
“They can see everything,” Hamilton said. “We’re showing them we’re doing what we’re saying.”
Initially, Bellingham Cider has been opening at 5 p.m. and just serving dinner and drinks. This month, they plan to expand hours to include brunch. They might expand hours further in summer once they’re able to use the outdoor patio.
“We’re just figuring out where our niche is,” Hamilton said.
They hope they’ll draw some nightlife from downtown, Shamsid-Deen said.
“The idea is really to pull traffic to this out north part of town,” Shamsid-Deen said. Plus, with the Sylvia Center, people can have an entire evening out: dinner, theater and drinks, all in the same building.
“If some people come to the restaurant and then there’s a show going on, they might go,” Shamid-Deen said. “And vise versa.”
That partnership has been in the works for a while.
Hamilton and Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao, artistic director of the Sylvia Center, actually first dreamed up this idea years ago, when they were working together at Idiom Theater. The space next to that theater was opening up, and they had the idea of opening up a bar in there. But Hamilton wasn’t ready for that kind of project.
“He was,” Hamilton said, referring to Hergenhahn-Zhao, “but I wasn’t mature enough.”
Years later, when Hergenhahn-Zhao started working on the new community arts center, he got back in touch with Hamilton. Things really started to fall into place when they found the building. Pearson Construction did the build-out, with design help from Zervas Architects.
“The space lent itself for a restaurant and production space downstairs,” Hamilton said. “There was a lot of these ideas floating around, and then it just sort of came together.”
Hamilton got in touch his longtime friend, co-founder and cider maker Joshua Serface, who had been homebrewing cider for years, to rave reviews from his friends.
“I wasn’t planning on doing this,” Serface said. “It was just something I did at home for fun.”
Serface first got experience with cider at his family farm near Vancouver, Washington.
“We’ve always pressed cider,” he said. “When I got old enough I started sprinkling yeast on it.”
Serface makes the cider dry, and adds blackberries, ginger and other fresh flavors seasonally.
He had to learn how to take his brewing methods — all natural, not using any additives, sulfites or preservatives — and scale them up to the commercial level.
“It takes a lot more work to do that,” he said. “I didn’t know if I could do that on a large scale.”
But he got help from the local beer brewing community. As more cideries spring up in the city, the Bellingham Cider Company crew hopes to build a community, similar to that of the local beer brewers.