Locally owned community businesses have the ability to become second homes filled with families. The process takes years of owners, employees, and customers organically creating a community within a community. People come for a job — or for a good meal — and stay, because it becomes their comfortable place where they know who and what to expect.

One of Whatcom County’s staples that fits this bill to a T is Avenue Bread. From southern Whatcom County in Fairhaven to the northern reaches in Lynden, you can walk through the door and enjoy a delicious breakfast and a slew of scrumptious sandwich options. It’s one of those places locals have gone to for years, and visitors make sure to return upon each visit.

While most patrons of Avenue Bread haven’t noticed a change, many don’t know that their beloved sandwich spots have been under new ownership since January 2024. While the sale of any business is a big deal, when one stays in the “family,” it can happen so seamlessly that the team and customers can go on as if nothing has happened. This was the case with Avenue Bread when Jamie Smeall and Johnny Macfarlane purchased the delis from Wendy and John DeFreest.

The Avenue Bread pastry case holds a variety of perfect complements to your morning cup of coffee. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

Ownership Changes, Values Remain the Same

Smeall has been a part of the Avenue Bread family for longer than she has actually been a part of the Avenue Bread Family. In 2003, Smeall began working at Our House Deli, which was located at 2301 James Street and is now home to one of the Avenue Bread eateries. When Our House Deli closed in 2008, Smeall didn’t know what she would do next. She had loved her five years at the deli and, only in her early twenties, wasn’t sure what else she would want to do.

As luck would have it, she wouldn’t have to decide.

The DeFreest’s had just purchased Avenue Bread, which consisted of the downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven locations, and randomly talked to Smeall’s mom, who recommended they connect. This led to Smeall beginning her career at the downtown Avenue Bread while Defreest worked out the details of adding the James Street location. When the doors opened for the new Avenue Bread later that year — there was Smeall, as though she’d never left. The Our House Deli’s regulars were ecstatic and a little confused to see her when they arrived to try their new/old sandwich spot.

Jamie Smeall right where it all began on James Street, where this Avenue Bread location was previously home to Our House Deli. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

“I was the front of house, and the exact same customers would come in, and they’d be like, ‘What are you doing here?’ They’d be so confused. I told them I was included in the lease agreement,” Smeall says with a laugh. “It went on like that for years. There are still around 10 of those customers that still come in every single week.”

As the business grew, adding the Lynden location, Smeall’s role also flourished. She became Defreest’s right-hand woman, learning the ins and outs of the business. As time passed, the Avenue team became a literal and figurative family. With employees working with the company for years, the family feel was unavoidable, and it became compounded as Smeall added her siblings and children to the team. Her mother — who deserves credit for this all coming together — joined the work family in 2015 and is now the bookkeeper. In addition to Smeall’s family, Avenue is known to have other actual family members working within its ecosystem.

A Long-Time Bond and a New Partnership

Macfarlane joined the family in 2016 through the sister restaurant in Fairhaven, The Filling Station. Through this connection, Smeall and Macfarlane worked together and created a tight bond, learning they could overcome challenges and disagreements and come through the other side successfully.

Macfarlane’s background as a bartender saw him enter the business as a technician who would quickly grow into a management role. As whispers began to grow of Avenue Bread selling, Macfarlane — who had purchased the Filling Stations from DeFreest — knew he was interested, but on one condition: He needed Smeall as a partner.

New business partners, Johnny Macfarlane and Jamie Smeall. Behind them is the art work of Local Artist Ben Mann. Each deli serves as both restaurant and art gallery. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

At one point, Smeall had been offered to purchase the James Street location but didn’t want to see the locations split up between different owners. Not wanting to take on all the locations herself, she sadly felt she would be looking for somewhere else to work, not wanting to take the ride with a new owner. When Macfarlane initiated the conversation about the pair purchasing the delis, things began to fall into place.

“I’ve been asked why I didn’t buy it myself, and the answer is that I wanted a partner,” Smeall says, “and I wanted a partner that understood how the current systems were working and that I could be real with.”

With the desire now in place, Smeall and Macfarlane had to figure out how to purchase the restaurants. They knew they didn’t want to have investors who might force a fiduciary responsibility to solely make money and ignore the other parts of the business that meant so much to them.

A local favorite, Avenue Bread’s country eggenue sandwich, is a mix of fresh and salty with tomato, red onion, and cheese on top of a sausage patty in between two toasted English muffins. Photo credit: Tony Moceri

“Managing that relationship was really important for us,” says Smeall. “[The DeFreest’s] owner-financed and, in doing so, really did something for the community. And she invested in our employees,” Macfarlane says. “That wasn’t what she was going to do with someone else, but she offered it to us.”

A few months in, Smeall and Macfarlane are thrilled they took the opportunity to keep the Avenue Bread delis in the family. The bakery portion of the business was sold to Robin Shrestha, also a long-time Avenue Bread employee. The now separate entities support each other’s businesses.

Visit any of the four Avenue Bread locations daily to enjoy delicious eats surrounded by a positive, supportive atmosphere. Follow what they are up to at www.avenuebread.com or on Instagram and Facebook.

Avenue Bread James Street Café
2301 James Street in Bellingham

Avenue Bread Fairhaven Café
1135 11th Street in Fairhaven

Avenue Bread Railroad Café
1313 Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham

Avenue Bread Lynden Café
444 Front Street in Lynden


Print Friendly, PDF & Email