By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
It was a moment of kindness from a stranger that motivated Claire Sumadiwirya, mother of three, to open a purpose-driven cafe.
Sumadiwirya opened Bellden Cafe four years ago with a community-focused mission in mind. The cafe’s mission is simple: to build community through food, drink, and kindness.
Originally from Shanghai, Sumadiwirya moved to Bellevue when she was 12. She graduated from the University of Washington with degrees in sociology and finance, and also received her MBA from Seattle University.
When Sumadiwirya and her family were living in Shanghai, her eldest son got sick and they had to stay at a hospital.
Hospitals in Asia and Europe don’t always have cafes like they do in the United States, so she found herself lonely, sleep-deprived, and hungry, but there was a generous janitor at the hospital who took care of her and bought her coffee.
Serving cups of kindness
When they moved back home to Bellevue, she was motivated to open a cafe and donate as much as she could to charity.
The little boy featured in the cafe’s logo is Sumadiwirya’s son because he is the reason she has been inspired to be kind to others.
She chose Bellevue for her cafe location because it was the place where she was welcomed into right away.
“I feel like Bellevue, even though it looks affluent and clean, there are still so many needs that people don’t see or realize,” she said.
The cafe works with a variety of charities and community partners, including the Overlake Hospital Foundation, Visit Bellevue, Bellevue Downtown Association, and Jubilee Reach.
Sumadiwirya said that the cafe features custom drinks dedicated to different charities and their mission. For example, Home for the Holidays is a drink that is made up of condensed milk, clove, and cinnamon.
“It literally tastes like Christmas. The idea is when people are in the hospital, we want them to feel like they’re being taken care of,” she said.
Another example is the Vision House drink called Springtime Latte that is made with lemon, lavender, and honey, which exemplifies giving people a second chance to renew for a better future.
Twenty-five percent of the sales will go to their respective charities. And on top of that, 10% of proceeds will also go to a variety of charities.
In addition to drinks, the cafe also serves food like acai bowls, avocado toast, and other tasty seasonal refreshments.
Persevering through challenging times
At the peak of the pandemic in March 2020, the cafe lost 90% of its sales and Sumadiwirya thought she was going to have to close her business for good. She told her team that there was a chance they may have to close, but that they’d close with a purpose by helping as many people as they could. The cafe held fundraising events like diaper and food drives, and even hosted vendors to sell in the cafe, to help support the community.
She wanted to turn the challenges into a positive moment to help other people. But luckily, they persevered and continued to stay open to serve the community.
Laura Clise from The Intentionalist reached out to Sumadiwirya and told her about the Comcast RISE grant for small business owners.
At first, Sumadiwirya was hesitant to apply because she didn’t want to take the opportunity away from others.
However, she recently received some hate mail that changed her mind. She described it as a very cruel email targeting her because she was an Asian woman. The police even got involved.
She reflected on the incident and decided that she needed to turn this into a positive situation. Many immigrant business owners have faced similar challenges during the pandemic, and she knew that taking it in silence wouldn’t be OK.
Sumadiwirya decided to apply for the grant, and thought that if she got it, she would use the funds to help create a training and educational program to support other minority business owners.
“Through this pandemic, we’ve seen a lot already. I’ve seen extreme kindness from customers and then from that email, extreme hate and disrespect. I just want to provide support for the community.”
Sumadiwirya described Bellden Cafe as a very safe environment and her team works hard to build positive team morale and ethics. She currently has about 15 people on her staff. She also pays them to volunteer up to eight hours a month.
With the $10,000 Comcast RISE grant, Sumadiwirya hopes to create more training programs for her team and amplify the power of giving.
Currently, she plans to provide internships for sex trafficking survivors to help them develop skills to be more confident going into the workforce.
“With the grant, I’m hoping to reinvest in the community to do better because there are so many marginalized groups out there who could benefit from this,” Sumadiwirya said.
Over the next few years, she also hopes to grow her team and business so they can continue donating to charities and figure out how to solve big problems, such as homelessness, in the local community.
Nina can be reached at [email protected]