Business Births


Norm and Donna Heerspink opened their recent business venture, Rustic Coffee Bar, July 4 in Fairhaven. The Heerspinks also own Muddy Waters espresso stand in Lynden, which has been open since 2005. Photo by Paul Moore

Rustic Coffee Bar 

Owners: Norm and Donna Heerspink 

Address: 1319 11th St.

Square footage: 827 square feet 

Phone number: 676-2600

Startup date: July 4 

Donna Heerspink sacrificed paid vacations, steady income and took a hefty cut in salary all for the love of coffee.   

After working for nine years as a paralegal and five at a securities firm, she found the best job of all: co-owning a coffee shop with her husband.

By opening the Rustic Coffee Bar in Fairhaven, Donna and Norm Heerspink realized their dream of owning a business where customers could sit down to enjoy coffee. The couple has owned Muddy Waters, a Lynden espresso stand, since 2005.   

“We wanted to take it to another level, one more step to able to have a little more time to interact with customers,” Donna said. “You can take a little more time in trying to perfect your drinks and being creative with your drinks [in a coffee shop] versus [in a drive through], you just want to make them happy with that drink at that time as fast as possible.”  

The Heerspinks said they enjoy having shops that connect them to their past and present. Both Norm and Donna grew up in Lynden and have lived in Bellingham for the past 18 years.  

While Donna works full-time at the Rustic Coffee Bar, Norm divides his time between the coffee shops and his job at Mt. Baker Silo, a company that makes concrete water reservoirs.   

Norm said he hopes to bring more support for Whatcom County businesses. Although the Heerspinks buy their coffee from Caffé D’Arte, an Italian roaster in Seattle, just about everything else, from the Edaleen Dairy products, pastries from Lynden Dutch Bakery and panini sandwiches from the Bellingham Public Market, are bought locally and either used or sold in the coffee bar.  

With dark brown and copper-colored décor, leather couches and bookshelves stocked with novels donated from Village Books, the Heerspinks said they aimed to create an upscale, more formal atmosphere to differentiate the Rustic Coffee Bar from Fairhaven’s well-known Tony’s Coffee House.    

Donna, who calls many customers by name, said interacting and building lasting relationships with people is the best part of her job. She said employees are either part of the “Muddy Waters family” or the “Rustic Coffee Bar family.” Customers become near-kin as well.   

“We’ve met [customers] for dinner halfway across the state,” Donna said. “You have fun with them and you get to interact with their lives and you hear about the sad times and the good times. You know, you hear about them losing loved ones, but you hear about them having babies and celebrating birthdays. It’s awesome.”


Photo by Paul Moore

Rosa Cardinale and daughter Catrina Bremer cook up their favorite recipes from the old country at Nona Rosa’s downtown.


Nona Rosa’s

Owner: Catrina Bremer

Address: 113 East Magnolia St.

Startup date: July 5

Phone: 733-8100

Web site:

When it comes to cooking, Rosa Cardinale is a force to be reckoned with. Cardinale started making food when she was 8 years old in Capaci, Sicily.

Cardinale’s daughter, Catrina Bremer jokes about when she was a child and her mother wouldn’t allow her to go near the kitchen. That was Cardinale’s domain.

In those days, everyone in the family called Cardinale “Mama Rosa.” Now, several decades and nine grandchildren later, Cardinale is a grandmother, or a nona.

Although Cardinale demanded the kitchen for herself, she still managed to pass on a love of cooking to her daughter. Bremer said the name of her downtown restaurant, Nona Rosa’s Ristorante and Pizzeria, is fitting because her love and appreciation of great food comes from her mother.

After 30 years of working in restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, Bremer said she’s excited to finally be her own boss.

Bremer keeps business in the family. Aside from Cardinale, who has been training the cooking staff and provides the recipes, Bremer’s three children, nephew, husband and sister work doing various jobs at the restaurant.

Cardinale said she loves working in the restaurant and it makes her feel young again.

“Everything we make from scratch, no package no nothing,” Cardinale said. “What you see, I make with these hands.”

Bremer tries to make the food on-site as often as possible. The ricotta cheese used in dishes such as lasgana, some cured meats such as the pancetta and even each individual ravioli noodle, are made by the staff.

The business is half restaurant, half deli. During the day, customers can sit at one of 20 tables, watch European sports on one of the big-screen TVs and eat lunch for about $10. At night, the TVs are turned off, the Italian music comes on and dinner is served. Nothing on the menu is over $20.

On one wall, vintage, black-and-white photographs taken in Sicily show Cardinale as a young woman, Cardinale’s late husband and other family members.

Bremer said she aimed to “bring the outside in” with her use of decoration. Nona Rosa’s is designed to give the feel of being in a campagne, or outdoor courtyard, where grapes grow around pergolas and people cook and eat.

Sicilian or Southern Italian culture and food are different from that of northern Italy, Bremer said. Northern Italian cooking is influenced by the French, thus often uses creamy sauces like alfredos, she said. Southern Italian food is more influenced by Middle Eastern and African cooking. As Bremer pointed out, one can see Africa from Sicily.

“Sicily was conquered by everybody, which is why they call it the melting pot of cuisine,” Bremer said. “Because we were conquered by everybody, we have all of these spices and all of this food that really is not on the mainland.”

Both Bremer and Cardinale said they are glad they can represent their culture and bring a taste of southern Italy to Bellingham.

“We have warm hearts, Sicilian people,” Cardinale said.


Photo by Paul Moore

Dr. Rajesh Bohla brings state-of-the-art equipment and experienced medical and staff training to his new cardiology practice, Peace Arch Cardiology in Fairhaven.

Peace Arch Cardiology

Owner: Dr. Rajesh Bohla

Address: 1215 Old Fairhaven Pkwy. Suite B

Startup date: July 1

Square footage: 1,900 square feet for the clinic office and

11,000 square feet for the administrative office.

Phone: 594-4002

Web site:

Dr. Rajesh Bhola, owner of Peace Arch Cardiology, wants to prove that mighty things can come in small packages.  

Peace Arch has only one cardiologist, a manager, one cardiac sonagrapher, a vascular technician, two nurses and less than 2,000 square feet of space. But within the clinic, patients are cared for by staff members who, in some cases, have more than 20 years of experience and state-of-the-art technology, some of which has never been seen in Whatcom County.

Bhola said he’s confident that patients will feel comfortable and well-taken-care of. 

“This is a full-service cardiology practice,” Bhola said. “It’s small, but it does everything.” 

Bhola said the road to becoming a business owner was short; he had the clinic ready for patients in just seven and a half weeks. Three days after opening, residents of Whatcom, Skagit and Island counties had already come in for appointments. 

Originally from Spokane, Bhola came to live in Bellingham a little over a year ago when he started work at the Madrona Medical Group  

Bhola said his desire to provide more choice for people in Bellingham inspired him to start Peace Arch, as North Cascade Cardiology Center was originally the only cardiology center in town.

Jim Byrnes, who manages the practice, brings 27 years of experience as a medical manager and a master’s in business administration. Byrnes oversees operations, hires employees and sets up the clinic.  

Patient-centered care, or being accessible, responsive and convenient for patients, is what Peace Arch aims to provide, Byrnes said.

“[With patient-centered care] the patient feels at home, not lost in a system,” Byrnes said. Everyone knows the patient’s name and [the patient] isn’t seeing anyone they don’t know. It establishes a comfort level. This is especially important because many of our patients are older and need that extra comfort.” 

In addition to elderly patients who may have dealt with or be at increased risk for heart complications, Bhola treats people who are experiencing chest pains, dizziness or heart palpitations. 

“I enjoy being a patient’s advocate,” Bhola said. “As a physician, I have a unique privilege to know people and to take care of them.”

Having the best possible technology is also part of patient-centered care, because it helps physicians be more responsive and efficient at tending to patients’ needs, Byrnes said. 

Staff members use the most up-to-date cardiac stress-testing system, called Q-Stress, the first of its kind to be used in Whatcom County. The system helps diagnose a patient by first elevating the patient’s heart rate on a treadmill and then, with a nuclear camera, photographing the patient’s heart. 

Data lines are rigged in every one of the three exam rooms, the ultrasound room, the diagnostic room and the upstairs offices, making patients’ medical records available to staff members and to hospitals through a secure network. 

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