Location, location … and word of mouth

When a location is the ‘best kept secret in Bellingham,’ businesses must rely on other ways to get the word out


Co-owner Nana Thebus stands behind the bar at Honey Moon, a production meadery and tasting room located on the alley behind Pepper Sisters restaurant, which Thebus said she uses as a landmark to direct deliveries and customers.

The three laws of business — location, location, location — have been around a long time.

But what if the best locations are taken? What if your business is not very visible?

Fear not. For although location is key for many businesses, there is more to the equation of success. Honey Moon, the Kaur Lounge, and Jeckyl and Hyde Deli and Ale House are a few such local businesses that prove just that.

If you haven’t seen Honey Moon, a production meadery and tasting room in downtown Bellingham, as you drive around town, that’s because they are located along the alley behind North State Street, behind the Pepper Sisters restaurant. For some restaurants and bars, being located in an alley just wouldn’t work, but co-owner Nana Thebus said the small, somewhat hidden location suits her just fine.

“We’ve sort of intentionally stayed a little bit small and a little bit hidden in a way just because we’re a small place,” said Thebus, who owns the wine shop with her husband and another local couple. “We never really wanted to be a great huge place that packed people in every night. Our production is small and our retail is only half the business.”


Discovering Bellingham’s Honey Moon

When Honey Moon opened almost three years ago, Thebus and the fellow owners also opened a stand at the Saturday Farmers Market to help draw attention to the business. The tactic worked and they continue to sell bottles at the market, but only during the summertime.

“Even on a day when we wouldn’t necessarily sell a lot of bottles, half of the reason we’re there is advertising,” Thebus said. “We give out free taste coupons so people can come over here [to the store] to taste it. That’s brought a lot of people in and at least made a lot of people aware that we exist.”

Attending public events and hosting events has played a key role in keeping Honey Moon at the front of people’s minds, Thebus said.

For instance, when the group of owners decided to start having live music, they found that if they committed to a regular schedule then Honey Moon would be on the regular music listings in the local media.

So when people peruse the listings for larger bars and music venues, up pops Honey Moon as well.

Though the wine bar’s location provides some challenges with attracting customers, it also gives the business a mysterious vibe that often piques people’s curiosity, Thebus said.

“It’s sort of intriguing to people because they don’t really know what it is,” she said, adding that foot and bike traffic along the alleyway is growing. “They’ll stop and read the signs on the window. So I think that slight aspect of mystery is, in a way, helpful. It makes people curious.”

The wholesale side of the business has also helped build that curiosity. When people find Honey Moon mead at Haggen or the Community Food Co-op, they are often surprised to see that it is produced here in Bellingham, Thebus said.

That then adds to the mystery: Where is this place?

Once curiosity gets the best of them and new customers stop by for a drink, Thebus said the relaxed atmosphere helps bring them back. Plus, since the place is so small and rarely packed, most customers feel like they have discovered something great that few others know about.

“We’re like a ‘best kept secret’ type of place and that actually goes a long way for marketing,” Thebus said.

Kaur Lounge one of ‘best kept secrets’

Caryn Poole, owner of the Kaur Lounge, is also hoping to create one of those “best kept secrets” with her new beauty salon located on Astor Street.

Poole opened the salon in September in an old schoolhouse that has been converted to commercial retail space. Though the building is just one block away from a major downtown thoroughfare (West Holly Street), it sees very little drive-by traffic. Still, Poole said the location was a secondary factor compared to the quality of the space.

“The building is what sold me,” she said. “Had this building been in a better location, though, it would have been even better.”

If you walked past the big red building, you might not even know the salon is there. Poole has yet to put a sign on the outside. She is not worried, though, since she gets so few drop-in customers.

“Word of mouth and referrals is how we keep in business,” Poole said. “I could take out a full-page ad in the Herald and I would get maybe one new customer.”

Even with the challenges of being located just off of the main grid, Poole said she loves the space and her customers enjoy the atmosphere.


Hiding out at Jeckyl and Hyde Deli

Creating the right atmosphere was also an important factor for Rod Topel, owner of Jeckyl and Hyde Deli and Ale House. And at a restaurant with a split personality — “deli by day, ale and wine by night” is the slogan — defining the right atmosphere meant defining the right menu.

Jeckyl and Hyde, which opened in May 2005 in the former Orchard Street Brewery site, offers a host of pizzas and calzones cooked in a wood-fired oven, as well as a large lunch menu of soups, salads and sandwiches. They serve coffee in the morning, sodas during lunch, and beer and wine for dinner. Nothing too unusual for a restaurant.

But what really set the menu apart from other restaurants and got customers talking, Topel said, is the option of ordering gluten free bread and pizza dough. Word spread quickly among those who are allergic to gluten because finding a restaurant that offers gluten-free items can be difficult.

“That group (those who order gluten-free items) has been a very good conduit to tell people because they’re very pleased that we offer gluten free bread for our sandwiches and gluten-free dough for our personal pizzas,” Topel said. “In fact, most of our advertising is word of mouth.”

Spreading the word about Jeckyl and Hyde has been difficult, Topel said, because few people drive by the restaurant, located on West Orchard Drive off of Meridian Street. The restaurant also lies on a dead-end street across from an industrial park and is somewhat hidden by a tall hedge that lines the sidewalk.

“It’s difficult to remind people that we’re here because it’s so out of the way to come in for those after-hour beers or wine and dinner,” Topel said.

So rather than waiting for people to discover his little-known restaurant, Topel decided to expand into catering and bring meals to his customers. Every day for the past two years, Jeckyl and Hyde caters breakfast and lunch to the nearby Saint Joseph Hospital physician’s lounge. They also have a growing list of local businesses that regularly call in to cater a lunch meeting.

As the catering side of the business grows, things back at the restaurant are often quiet. But that does not deter people from coming. In fact, two local book clubs take advantage of the quiet to hold their monthly meetings at Jeckyl and Hyde, Topel said.

That just goes to show that even the most hidden location will still draw a following if customers like the atmosphere it creates.

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