BY PENNY WEBB
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Oct. 6, 2013
They come in waves. And are as predictable as the tides.
The sea of faces inside Useless Bay Coffee Company are an assortment of regulars that occupy the same seats with the same crew of mates every day, or week, or month. A meeting place for all, a living room for many, UBCC is a cozy spot to spend a rainy afternoon, hear some music, eat some great food, and enjoy all that is artisanal.
The whole place is about art, really. From the building itself, to the lovely perennial and herb borders, the wrought iron railings, the interior metal work, the art on the walls, the one-of-a-kind roaster, the freshly roasted coffee, the fabulous food, the live music ─ it’s all art. Not to mention that most of the staff are actors, musicians, or artists. The place is a temple to creativity. And good conversation:
“There needs to be more mummy!” barista Nick Welles extolls to a customer, regarding the latest cinematic remake of “The Mummy.”
The customer agrees about the virtues of older films, then laments, “And, when vampires get too serious…” They both roll their eyes.
At a cobbled together “kitchen table” in the center of the front room, a group of island elders hold court.
“Well, you know what’s going to happen now that Obamacare is in effect…” one says. Their voices chime together into a lively din.
A few feet away, more tables are shoved together to accommodate a fundraising meeting for the South Whidbey High School PTA.
“I know donuts aren’t PC, but the kids will buy a TON of them! And, we’ll sell them on early release days, so the teachers won’t kill us.”
In the airy back room a group of guys share the “Seattle Times” and their lattes.
“Well, let’s see what foolishness they’re up to in Seattle today,” one says as he flips open the paper. His buddies groan.
UBCC is Langley’s living room, the social center of the south end. Deals get done here. Plans get hatched. Gossip gets legs. Walls near the bar are peppered with flyers and business cards, announcements of classes and studio tours, services and casting calls. Information is constantly being exchanged. And hugs.
You really can’t walk into UBCC without running into someone you know ─ even if you’re just here for the weekend. When this reporter first moved to the island a few years back, I ran into friends from Seattle at UBCC. Three years later I walk into a crowd of familiar faces that greet me by name, a la “Cheers.” Nearly everyone gets a similar reception.
UBCC began seven years ago, when owner Des Rock merged his newly acquired skill of roasting coffee with his love of Langley, and created the soon-to-be institution.
“Des really fosters art, or any other passion you have, no matter what side of the bar you’re on,” operations manager Aaron Simpson said. Simpson calls UBCC a “nurturing environment,” where staff feel supported in following their dreams, wherever that may take them. That environment keeps both customers and staff coming back. Most employees are seasoned veterans who have felt supported when their passions pulled them away from the bar ─ like Simpson, who ran for state representative last year, or fellow barista Randall Leese, who took an around-the-world bike trip with his brother. Both are back at the helm behind the counter, back home.
“It really is a family,” Simpson said.
UBCC is a big supporter of music. Many days patrons will find musicians tucked inside the front nook playing anything from accordion to cello to classical guitar. During the summer months, UBCC’s outdoor stage, lovingly called The Useless Shed, is filled with both scheduled and improvised performances. During the Choochokam Arts Festival in early July, The Shed functions as one of the official stages, and during Djangofest every September, it becomes an unofficial spot to “djam.” Local musicians are always encouraged to come and perform, so if you’re interested email Rock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, then there’s the coffee. And the food. Small batches of organic beans are roasted in the vintage roaster throughout the week, ensuring the freshest, most flavorful brew. The baristas are artists in their own right, taking their craft very seriously. The food also is a serious matter, as everything is made from scratch. Retro-diner breakfasts of eggs and handmade sausages give way to Panini sandwiches, salads and chili for lunch. Grab a ginger cookie for dessert and enjoy.
UBCC seamlessly combines a sense of place and a sense of purpose ─ a community living room, a place to meet friends, get some work done, and imbibe some strong brew, but also it stands as a testament to incorporating art into everyday life, into everything. Food is art. Coffee is art. Conversation is art. Living is art.
Useless Bay Coffee Company is located at 121 Second St. in Langley, and is open 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Call 360-221-4515 or visit Useless Bay Coffee Company here.
Stay tuned for more stories in this series that explores WLM’s coffee-selling members!
Penny Webb is a writer, musician, gardener and mom. She is currently cleaning her kitchen.