John and Dorie Belisle wanted to create something for people who enjoy visiting the farm, and now they are just about ready to show it off.
The Belisles operate BelleWood Acres, an apple farm north of Bellingham. They've recently completed construction of a 12,000-square-foot facility at 6140 Guide Meridian that will have a bistro, bakery, gift shop, tasting rooms, community areas and a distillery. The facility is scheduled to open Friday, July 27.
Once open, hours will be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily at least through the harvest season, said Dorie Belisle. The former farmstand on Ten Mile Road will be used for wholesale activity.
The facility is near the BelleWood Acres' 25,000 apple trees, giving customers a chance to wander the trails and pick apples in the u-pick section. The trail system is still in the works, but they expect to have golf carts available to help transport people across the large property.
"It's more of a tribute to farming; it's something we respect and we want this to be a place where people can come and enjoy the farm," said John Belisle.
The Belisles wanted to incorporate as much of the farm as possible when designing the building. Huge doors and windows are on the first floor, creating a farmer's market, open-air feel when the weather is good.
"We wanted to bring in as much of the outside as possible, but still be able to shut the doors when the wind and rains come," John Belisle said.
The bistro will have breakfast and lunch items on the menu using ingredients from the farm as well as from other local businesses. Apples will be a key ingredient to the menu, but customers should expect a variety of other items, including pumpkin and squash soups, sandwiches and baked goods. Regional cheeses also will be available to pair with the different varieties of apples.
The craft distillery is something new to BelleWood Acres. They will be starting off with hard apple cider, vodka and gin, then will add other products like brandy and whiskey after those go through the proper aging process.
Getting through the permitting process was long but fairly smooth, and the Belisles have spent a lot of time researching recipes to come up with unique flavors for the hard liquor. Once the distillery gets going, they plan on having these products available in local stores.
Along with being another revenue source, diversifying into hard liquor can help protect a farm like BelleWood from harvest disasters: If an unexpected hailstorm damages the apple crop, some of those apples that couldn't be sold at the store could be used in the distillery.
In keeping with a community feel, the facility will have a couple of rooms available for meetings and events. The second floor community room that overlooks the distillery will feature works from local artists; the ground floor community room will host classes, such as cake decorating, cooking and wreath-making. The rooms also will be used for group tours.
"We are already getting a lot of interest from bus tours visiting Whatcom County," said Dorie Belisle. "Taking people to a farm can be a great addition to a tour package."
While opening the facility has kept the Belisles busy, they've also been getting ready for the upcoming harvest.
"This year's crop looks wonderful," said Dorie Belisle. "We had a warm period this spring that really helped with pollination."
While the Belisles will continue to be mainstays at the farm, they also plan on shifting more day-to-day operations to the employees. Jake Fowler is handling the distillery operations, while Sarah Fowler is handling events and sales. Ari Ambrutis is running the bistro.
Although a lot of things are already in place to make the business a success, the Belisles both said they also want to leave some wiggle room for public input.
"We have some ideas on how this will go, but the community will tell us what they want with this farm," John Belisle said. "They are very excited to see it, based on what we've been seeing on our Facebook page."
Several interesting tenant improvement permits were recently filed at the city of Bellingham. One was submitted for 1321 Cornwall Ave. ( in the former Barbo Furniture space) to put in a retail store and warehouse for an electronic cigarette distributor called Exc Inc.
A tenant improvement permit also was submitted to put in a Chico's clothing store at Bellis Fair mall. The women's clothing company has a store at the Seattle Premium Outlet near Marysville.
At 402 36th St. (Sehome Village Shopping Center, in the old Robeks space), plans are in the works to put in a Domino's pizza outlet.
Retail Tip Sheet runs each Sunday.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2269. Visit his business blog online at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at twitter.com/BhamHeraldBiz.