Into the Woods: Of coffee and community
It was a sunny, late-winter morning in downtown Bellingham, and although there were less people than usual strolling the sidewalks, those populating the urban core amid the threat of a global health crisis were still in need of sustenance.
Inside the Washington Grocery Building on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Chestnut Street, Woods Coffee was the site of a number of citizens eager to begin their day with an infusion of caffeine and community.
As customers of varying ages placed orders at the expansive front counter and then sought their seats with warm beverages and baked goods in hand, they kept a significant distance between tables to respect other guests’ social space before settling in to talk quietly with friends, telecommute, catch up on emails or read the latest breaking news reports.
I’d ordered a mocha in a mug and a white chocolate raspberry scone from the barista—who helpfully offered to heat up the delectable sweet treat before crafting my coffee concoction—and made my way to a small table smack-dab in the center of the coffee shop with a view of the action.
On a previous visit, I’d noticed Woods’ to-go cups boasted a number of quotes by naturalist, author and environmental conservationist John Muir. I’d read sayings such as “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world,” and “Come to the woods, for here is rest,” but hadn’t really connected the dots as to how the words of the Sierra Club cofounder related to the chain of local and regional coffee shops that were founded in 2002 with one store in Lynden, and now boast 19 locales throughout Whatcom, King, Skagit, and Snohomish counties.
But after taking a closer look at my surroundings, it became clear Muir’s outdoors-focused ethos has taken up residence inside Woods. Giant photographs of local forests are on the walls, an oversized chandelier featuring welded pine trees (and an occasional grizzly bear) hangs above the front counter, and one of the four flags above the bussing station provided even more clues pointing to Woods’ respect for the natural world.
“Every day is a new adventure,” the hanging bearing the heading of
“culture” reads. “Whether you are dreaming about climbing that mountain, taking that road trip with friends, or simply trying to make it through the work day, we are here to fuel your adventure. If you can dream it, you can do it.”
The three other artistically inclined hangings that are now on display at all Woods Coffee venues point out the Herman family’s commitment to obtaining sustainably sourced coffee from around the world; draw attention to the roastery at its Lakeway Drive locale that’s dedicated to crafting coffee that “awakens the explorer within;” and note their bakery in Lynden provides made-from-scratch treats that are delivered fresh to each store on a daily basis.
“Everything we use is brought in-house,” Ryan Spiker explains. As the director of marketing for Woods, he’s aware that many people in the Pacific Northwest are conscious about reducing their carbon footprint, and wants to assure customers they’re doing what they can to make sure operations are streamlined and as sustainable as possible. To that end, they use a single distribution truck to make the rounds to all the stores each day (instead of relying on dozens of deliveries to all venues), and are always conscious of how much energy they’re using.
But that’s not the only type of energy the Woods crew is keeping an eye on. Spiker says whether you’re visiting the popular waterfront locale at Boulevard Park, checking out the new store in Edmonds, or hanging out in the coffee shop in the Flatiron building flanking Holly Street, they’re continuously working to make the vibe a welcoming one.
Regardless of your ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views, Spiker says they’re hoping you’ll feel like you’re part of the family of more than 350 employees working to elevate each Woods experience.
“We love to serve people,” Spiker says. “That’s what we’ve always been about. It’s not just about the coffee, it’s also about the connection. We recognize the potential in people, and realize that everyone’s on their own adventure. We know you’re up to cool things, and we’re here to cheer you on.”
Basically, he says, their culture is based on providing spaces for people to come together regardless of their different points of view. They’re politically neutral on purpose, and remain open to the whole community—“not just people who think this way or that way.”
During a month when the world appears to have gone topsy-turvy and people’s health, careers and everyday actions are being affected by a pandemic, it seems more important than ever that communal spaces are safe and welcoming ones. The hour or so I spent at Woods sipping coffee, observing baristas sanitizing door handles and counters while cheerfully keeping up with the influx of orders, and watching customers make themselves comfortable in an uncomfortable time convinced me that coffee and community coexist here.
While you won’t currently find copies of the Cascadia Weekly at Woods newsstands, Spiker says customers are encouraged to bring in whatever reading material they wish to. Inclusion is one of their main goals, and they’re serious about it.
Another thing Woods is passionate about is giving back to the community via donating to local charities, fundraising organizations, schools and more. Although they recently had to postpone a March 20 “Day of Giving” fundraiser benefiting Rebound—a local nonprofit with the mission to equip, strengthen and empower children and families facing difficult life circumstances—they’re hoping customers will step up to the plate when the event is rescheduled.
For more information about Woods Coffee, go to http://www.woodscoffee.com