The sign at 2104 18th St., touting "Brews and Bouquets," is small and unassuming. Cars passing along the busy downtown street may miss it entirely. But take note: There's a lot more brewing at The Belle Rae than meets the eye.

Downtown's newest venue is also a coffee bar and bouquet-design spot, allowing guests to pick up a cold brew and quiche in the morning and a floral arrangement for their dinner table.  It should be no surprise that a business with such a warm atmosphere is run by two lifelong friends.

Shannon Hough and Michelle Meadows have been friends since their days as Vikings at West High. The pair even built homes on the same street — Belle Rae Court, for which the venue is named — and raised their families side by side.

Hough launched her event planning business, Shannon Hough Events, in 2011 and eventually convinced Meadows to join in on the fun.

After planning a variety of events in town, the Central Coast and Southern California, the pair started looking last year for an event venue of their own.

"We wanted to offer a fresh, cool downtown venue," Hough said. "But we didn't really see anything that struck us."

During a drive downtown, Hough spotted the 18th Street house next to the Junior League building, which has served as a number of office spaces as well as a youth counseling center and telecommunication business over the years. She told her husband to stop the car, shouting, "This is it!"

Work has included restoring the original wood flooring and bringing in custom furnishings with a rustic style.

"We tried to stay true to what the home already had to offer," Meadows said.

The partners have attempted to learn the house's age, finding the oldest reference as 1904 (when a room was offered for rent). Many records note 1959, the year a wraparound porch was added to the home. That area is now a sun room that features the bouquet-making station. In addition to already-assembled arrangements, designed by floral expert Hough, customers can choose from a variety of blooms and fillers not found at your average grocery store.

The current selection includes anemones, antique hydrangea, scabiosa, birds of paradise, snowberries, astilbe and David Austin and other varieties of garden roses.

Arrangements range from $25 (small) to $85 (extra large), with pre-assembled bouquets priced on size. (A recent special was a 30-rose bouquet for $30.)

Bouquets are packaged in a custom burlap wrap made from bags from local coffee roaster California Craft Coffee, which supplies the beans for the cold brew and hot options (medium and dark roast and decaf) offered at the coffee bar.

The Belle Rae also serves pastries from local purveyor Franco Baked, which makes croissant cinnamon rolls and two varieties of oat bars (cherry and blueberry) exclusively for Belle Rae. Other selections include quiches and cookies, with the espresso chocolate chip being a top seller.

Hough said in the future they will rotate in other local bakers that they've worked with on events. They're also looking at developing a menu of toasts, including a poached egg and avocado option that is a favorite of Hough's.

Speaking of events, 17 are already on the books for the space, which has only been open full time for about a month. That includes birthday parties, showers and weddings. The venue is also offering "day of" for bridal parties through the end of the year (with bookings open in November and December). That includes six hours in the space, a mimosa bar, pastries and an on-site attendant to help with any last-minute details before the big event. Packages are $650 with bookings open in November and December. After that, the service will be only included in full wedding packages. 

Those interested in taking a look at the space should head out for First Friday. The Belle Rae will host a pop-up shop with local online retailer Suede & Stone, serve appetizers from Chef's Choice Noodle Bar and serve complimentary wine. Singer-songwriter Crimson Skye will perform at the event, which will run from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 1.

Hough said they plan to put up a full sign but are getting the word out that they're offering a full-service event venue that's ready to go.

"You want to be here. It's a fun, cool downtown vibe and space. Not just for a wedding but any event."

The Belle Rae is open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment only on weekends. 

Dine for a good cause

On Monday and Tuesday, California Pizza Kitchen supports The Pink Patch Project, benefitting City of Hope and St. Jude Children's Hospital. The chain will donate 20 percent of food and beverage sales from those days to the organization. The offer is valid for dine-in, online, takeout, catering, curbside and delivery orders placed directly with CPK.

For the third year, The Habit Burger Grill has partnered with No Kid Hungry in its fight against childhood hunger. Starting Tuesday, the burger chain is offering guests who donate $2 or more a free charburger.

Last year The Habit raised more than $400,000 for the cause, providing more than 4 million meals for kids in need. The chain set a similar fundraising goal for this year.

Williams Sonoma is also raising funds for No Kid Hungry through the sale of its celebrity-branded spatulas. Utensils were designed by chefs Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown and Bobby Flay and celebrities Jeff Bridges, Kristen Bell, Questlove, Ayesha Curry, Faith Hill, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. There are also branded spatulas by Shake Shack and the American Girl franchise.

Williams Sonoma will donate 30 percent of the retail cost of each spatula ($12.95) purchased to No Kid Hungry, plus an extra $5,000 on behalf of the celebrity whose spatula sells out first.

In the past, the chain has sold more than 50,000 spatulas, serving more than 500 million meals ($10 buys 100 healthy meals).

States by hate

The dating app Hater, which posits that people are best paired by their mutually shared dislikes, pulled some data on the foods over which we fight. Since starting up in February, it's been tracking the preferences of around a “few hundred thousand users.” It broke down what's the most reviled dish, food or chain restaurant in each state based on user selections.

In California, we're not down with Chick-fil-A. (I'm not a fan but, seeing the packed drive-through at the Stockdale and California location, wonder if we broke it down by county what numbers we'd find.) Our neighbors in the West dislike La Croix seltzer (Nevada), fast food in general (Oregon), Keurig K-Cups (Washington), kombucha (Arizona), dim sum (Idaho, which is a head-scratcher) and balsamic vinegar (Utah).

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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