Ryan Siu, a veteran barista at the Black Drop Coffee House, recently became a co-owner of the shop. Siu joins Stephanie Oppelaar, who has owned the shop since December 2009.
“We’re finding our stride as an ownership team,” Oppelaar said. “Ryan has that passion for specialty coffee. It’s really nice to hear what he thinks and to have him apply his passion here.”
The coffee shop at 300 W Champion St. in downtown Bellingham opened in 2002 and has gone through several ownership changes. Oppelaar is the longest-running owner in the shop’s history.
Siu decided to pursue a career in coffee while taking a break from his barista job. He worked at the Black Drop from 2006 until 2010. Then he quit to serve in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.
After two years working to support small business and tourism development in the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria, Siu moved to Beijing to teach English to kindergarteners, and began working shifts at a coffee shop that reignited his love for coffee.
From there, he went to Ramon, Nicaragua, and worked with Planting Hope, an outreach program that works with coffee farming communities.
“Through that outreach I was able to see my first coffee plant, taste its fruit, and see the devastation leaf rust can cause. I also got to meet many different people in the coffee industry and learn about the coffee chain process,” Siu said in a press release. “ These interactions helped me realize that my passion is in sharing great coffee with customers.”
Siu and Oppelaar have been close friends since before Siu started working at Black Drop in 2006. Siu knew Oppelaar was busy with Black Drop – she has two children less than three years old – so he contacted her about coming back to work at the Black Drop while he was overseas.
Oppelaar wasn’t actively looking for a business partner at the time, but she was having a hard time being a good parent while running the shop the way she wanted to, she said. So she brought Siu on board as a partner last fall.
When Siu returned to the Black Drop, he found it had gotten busier, he said. Sales at the shop grew by about 5 percent every year from 2010 to 2014, Oppelaar said.
“It’s busier and everything is so much brighter and happier. It’s amazing that Steph was able to do this on her own,” Siu said while helping a growing line of customers. “She’s done an amazing job building this up.”
With two owners, Oppelaar said the Black Drop will now be able to work with more nonprofits. In the past, they have donated to and worked with Brigid Collins Family Support, Northwest Youth Services, the Bellingham Food Bank, and an annual Christmas giving tree program.
Oppelaar said the coffee shop wasn’t as involved with the community as she wanted to be in 2014, but they already have three fundraising drives planned with Kulshan Community Land Trust this year.
Besides serving specialty coffee and partnering with nonprofits and community groups, Oppelaar and Siu want the Black Drop to be a social environment where people are comfortable hanging out.
The decor at Black Drop Coffee House has a living room feel. Small chandeliers hang from its ceiling, there’s a basket full of yarn and knitting needles for customers to use, and people type on laptops at tables stacked with books.
“I wanted to come back to the Black Drop because of the community that has formed around it,” Siu said.