Beer, coffee and bicycles represent the lifestyle cornerstones for some Bellinghamsters. So why not start a centrally-located café where bicycles, coffee and a good draft merge?
That’s what Andrew Francis and Kim Strang did when they opened Café Velo (Velo is the French word for bicycle) on the corner of Prospect and Flora Streets last December. The couple grabbed their inspiration from the bicycle road trips they took in southern Europe where they immersed themselves in bike culture.
While working on a bicycle in the repair shop half of the café, Francis shared his passion for bicycle culture. “We have been to several other cafe/bike shops and always had a great time so we thought about opening something similar. On a trip to Bellingham to visit friends, we realized that a cafe/bike shop would be a perfect fit for Bellingham because of the popularity of cycling, beer and coffee here. I had lived in Bellingham from 1995 to 2005 and I still felt connected to the community here, which made the decision that much easier.”
Café Velo blends the best of an Italian-style café and a bicycle repair shop. The shop owners envisioned a one-stop place for bicyclists to share a meal or a drink with other commuter bicyclists. The location even has a patio set up for outdoor conversations and hearty appetites—after the weather warms up.
I visited the café during a rainy day and I found the interior cozy. A road bicycle hung on a far wall. A bicycle tour played out on a big screen on another wall. A woman sipped her coffee while gazing out a window at the rainy streets. A bicyclist stopped by to pick up pedals (a birthday present for him) and another bicyclist showed up to check the work on the brakes of his well-loved bicycle.
Meanwhile, Strang sat at a counter sipping coffee. A large map graced the wall behind her head. Francis continued to work on a bicycle. Both of the café owners wore dreamy expressions on their faces when describing European road trips. “In 2010 we traveled to Tuscany where Andrew participated in an organized ride called L’Eroica,” Strang says. “This ride is only open to bicycles built before 1987 and travels over the famous Strade Bianche, or unpaved white roads of Tuscany. Riders attend from all over the world and dress in the regalia of the bike races of old times with wool jerseys, goggles and tires wrapped around their shoulders. On that trip, Andrew purchased his 1955 racing bike which now hangs on the wall of the shop.”
The couple also traveled to a French island known for its mountains. “In 2012 we spent two weeks touring Corsica on vintage road bikes. We stayed at inns and B&Bs along the way,” shares Francis.
And if that doesn’t cause bicyclists envy, the couple also road traveled in Southern France too. “In 2015, we traveled to Nice, France with our road bikes and spent two weeks exploring the surrounding Maritime Alps, including climbing up Lance Armstrong’s favorite training climb the 3,000 foot Col de Madone twice,” recalls Francis.
They stopped by farmers markets where they picked up the fixings for sandwiches to be eaten picnic-style on the beach. Memories of these free-spirited meals inspired the café’s menu which includes vegan and gluten-free sandwich options among the traditional offerings.
“Our favorite sandwich is the Alpe d’Huez, named after the most famous climb in the Tour de France. The sandwich is modeled after the Italian Muffaletta,” Francis shares.
Strang’s favorite coffee is an eight once Caffe Latte while Francis likes a double espresso with a splash of hot water, called an Italiano. They source their coffee from nearby Portland, their bread from Avenue Bread and their pastries from the Community Food Coop.
As Bellingham grows into an increasingly bicycle-friendly destination, the couple welcomes bicyclists from near and far but their focus is on the commuter bicyclist. Café Velo offers bicyclists and non-bicyclists networking opportunities. It’s Bellingham’s version of a place that knows your name.
“We are passionate about bikes as alternative transportation,” says Francis. “And we wanted to provide a space for cyclists to hang out, meet one another and talk about past and future bike trips and adventures. We’ve always loved the uniquely French concept of a cafe as something between a restaurant and a bar – a forum and meeting place where you could order an espresso, beer, wine and food at any hour of the day. And I’ve seen how well it paired with a small bicycle shop.”