Claire Sumadiwirya didn’t realize how much she’d miss coffee until her oldest son got sick and was admitted to a hospital overseas. During the nights spent at his bedside in Shanghai, she constantly craved caffeine but finding a nearby coffee shop was a rarity in the city. Grappling with her son’s sickness and being in an unfamiliar area, Sumadiwirya said she wanted nothing more than the familiar comfort of a hot cup of coffee.
Days went by and eventually the hospital staff took notice. They brought her homemade food and warm coffee from a gas station 20 blocks away. The unconditional kindness and love she experienced that day inspired Sumadiwirya to open a coffee shop that revolved around generosity and community support. After her son regained total health, she took him back to Bellevue and opened Bellden Cafe in 2017.
From the beginning, the mission-driven coffee shop found ways to help the Bellevue community by donating a certain percentage of sales to local charities and foundations, including Jubilee REACH, Overlake Hospital, and more. We sat down with Sumadiwirya to discuss how she integrates community work with Bellden Cafe and her favorite spots around town.
What have you enjoyed the most about owning a coffee shop?
Coffee shops are universally accessible to everyone compared to other types of businesses. Not everyone can afford to walk into a boutique or restaurant, but most people have enough for a cup of coffee. Even if they aren’t coming in to buy something, coffee shops are also made as social spaces to meet with friends, relax after a long day, or find free wi-fi. No matter what social-economic status you fall under, Bellden Cafe will always welcome you in.
Explain more about your charitable donations and how you integrate community work with your business?
Volunteering and donating have always been a passion of mine. From the moment we opened, I knew I wanted to build a business focused on giving back. Coffee has a certain charm to it; the drink often connects people in many ways, and that’s why I created our signature charity drinks like Home for the Holidays Latte, where people can easily make a difference by purchasing a cup of coffee. Since opening, Bellden Cafe has partnered with 15 different organizations. We’re currently working with Congregation for the Homelessness to push out another drink.
On top of that, I also pay all my staff to go out and volunteer. That way, they don’t have to worry about missing a workday and get a chance to connect with the community.
What makes your menu stand out from other coffee shops in the area?
Most of our menu items are made in-house. When opening Bellden Cafe, I noticed that it was rare for coffee shops to have healthy and filling food. So, when we produced our menu, I made sure to add food I would feel comfortable feeding my children because this community feels like family too. We also carry gluten-free and dairy-free items as well. Our focus is simply to make good food that makes your body feel balanced.
What’s your favorite part about working downtown?
My favorite part is the strong sense of community here and how we’ve come together to support different causes. The tall skyscrapers and big corporations make it hard to see the problems Bellevue faces like homelessness, struggling families in low-income households and more. Just like Bellden Cafe, there are so many different organizations out there that have the same drive and need to help those who are going through challenging times. I love seeing the amazing results that come from working together.
Where do you see Downtown Bellevue in 3-5 years?
I want to see more big companies collaborate with the community and small businesses. We need more organizations. We need more ambassadors like the Bellevue Downtown Association to help spread the word about our city and highlight successes so that others can feel like they’re part of a great community.
Where are your favorite places to dine in Downtown?
Bellevue Zip Tour is a fun summer activity most people don’t even know about. It’s a great time and has a fantastic view when you swing across. I also love Cielo Concina Mexicanatucked inside the Elements Apartments. The food is amazing.
Where do you hope to see Bellden Cafe in the future?
We want to continue working with more nonprofits and train other businesses to have the same community-driven model that we do. The pandemic taught us that without community support, we would not have survived this. It brought feelings of loneliness and anxiousness to people’s lives, and it’s important to remind everyone that we’re in this together. As an Asian-American business owner and a single mom, it’s been tough. I’m so thankful for a community like Bellevue that supports me and my business. The kindness and generosity I’ve experienced inspire me to one day create more community spaces like Bellden Cafe, where people can just be themselves.
Follow Bellden Cafe for menu updates and aesthetic coffee shots:
Person Behind The Place is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.