Cafe Blue has been meeting Fairhaven’s coffee needs for years, but long-time regulars may have noticed a change in July of 2023, when former barista Micah Jones took over the shop. Others have caught on to the new atmosphere, and the tiny coffeeshop has become a destination for people who appreciate the efforts to create an even more welcoming and inclusive vibe.

Originally from Puyallup, Jones had such a positive high school experience that he was inspired to move to Bellingham to study secondary education at Western Washington University, so he could reproduce and expand on the effects his teachers had on his school career. The idea was to become a principal and help recreate the culture that had helped him thrive. Unfortunately, the reality of paying for his own schooling proved overwhelming, and Jones left after three years. But he didn’t give up on Bellingham, jumping fully into the coffee scene that already had a strong hold on him.

The shop is a riot of colors and textures, with curios, oddities, and mementos everywhere. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

A Place To Make a Home

Jones quickly learned he didn’t need to become a principal to affect peoples’ lives. He developed such solid relationships with his regulars that, when he moved from one coffee shop to another, some customers would move along with him. He learned more about himself with each experience, and more about what he did and didn’t love about the business.

Soon Jones found himself at home at one of his favorite jobs so far, working behind the counter at Cafe Blue, under the ownership of Lily Lovell and Kyle Hooper. Jones describes working for them as “a dream,” and says he wouldn’t have done as well as he did without their guidance and support.  

The longtime Cafe Blue décor has been updated to reflect its new era. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

While working a shift in December of 2022, Lovell told Jones they planned to sell the cafe. “My heart sank to the bottom of my feet,” Jones says, “because this place means so much to so many people.”

His shock became a dream come true when Lily asked whether Jones would like to buy the business from them. “It probably took 30 minutes to sink in,” he says. “I was 23, had no business experience, and wasn’t prepared for that to come up.” But he was all in and spent the next seven months learning everything he could about the different aspects of owning and operating a business.

Improving on a Good Thing

For Jones, creating a sense of community is a top priority, so he worked to preserve what Cafe Blue had already built while adding a flavor all his own. Customers may notice they spend a little longer in line here than at other shops, but the payoff comes in the human connection with the folks behind the counter. A favorite example is that each customer is asked the “Question of the Day,” which might be thoughtful or light-hearted, and always makes an opportunity for real conversations at the counter.

Even when the cafe isn’t crowded with customers, there’s no shortage of delightful distractions. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

He also wants to be true to himself, which means honoring his background as a Black business owner in a predominantly white area, and as a second-generation American, since his mother is a native of Yap, an island nation in Micronesia. He also grew up queer in what he describes as “a very Christian household,” and knows how it feels to not belong.

To create a community, he poses a variety of questions: “What would it take to make a place have meaning for me? Do I see myself reflected in this place? What is a tangible thing we can do to make a person’s stay here better?” This helps him, and the staff, be mindful of everyone who comes through the door, and strive to let them know they are invited.

This traditional Yapese lei on display in the shop was presented to Jones at his high school graduation. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

A Responsibility to Each Other

Jones doesn’t talk about Cafe Blue without including another community, the one assembled behind the counter with him, and the responsibility he feels towards them.

“The cafe does not operate without the staff we have here, and I cannot give enough praise to what they do on a daily basis. It’s an honor to be able to have committed individuals who understand what needs to be done, and also take it and make it their own,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are in life, or what you look like. Because of who we are, people in marginalized communities can see themselves in this space, and we definitely draw them to us. It’s a tall order, but it’s also a big deal that we exist.”

Cafe Blue
1319 11th Street in Fairhaven
Monday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday–Sunday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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