The Belle Rae has been brewing since Shannon Hough and Michelle Meadows’ days at West High School. But the Belle Rae is more than an event space that daylights as a coffee and flower shop – it’s an extension of Hough and Meadows’ home.
Between both families, the pair has raised 10 children on Belle Rae Court in southwest Bakersfield.
“We bought the lots and our homes on the same day,” Hough said, whose house is across the street from Meadows’.
That was 22 years ago.
Now that their children have flown from the Belle Rae Court nest, Hough and Meadows wanted to expand that nest into another sector. For Hough and Meadows, Belle Rae Court had become an iconic gathering ground for their children’s friends.
Hough wanted a space that would not only be a chameleonlike event space, but one that would function daily as a full-service flower shop, selling unconventional florals as well as a classic coffee and tea drinks. Hough wanted to mimic the homely atmosphere of the original Belle Rae.
So it was only fitting that the Belle Rae storefront be a renovated home. Gutted and stripped from the dull office space it had become, Hough and Meadows face-lifted the venue with muted walls, antique brasses and chandeliers, homey dark hardwood floors and Tetris-piece-like components that could function as the day-to-day coffee bar or a dessert bar for an event.
The interchangeability is an asset to event spaces but also reminiscent of the Belle Rae Court’s jampacked after-school hangout sessions. All of the kids from the schools would congregate on Belle Rae.
“It consumes all of our time, not in a negative way, but all of our time is involved in it and it allows us to have that togetherness now,” Meadows said.
The natural progression for an event planner is gaining their own event space. Naturally, the Belle Rae is also an extension of House of SHE, or Shannon Hough Events, which Hough has been running for more than seven years now.
In fact, Hough’s first event was Meadows’ wedding – a surprise wedding that Meadows’ husband didn’t even know he was the groom to.
“Michelle was the only person in on it!” Hough said, laughing.
Hough said event planning is a lot of work in and of itself, but that she and Meadows always threw the best parties, whether it was luau or ’70s-themed.
But Hough knew she couldn’t build her second Belle Rae alone and that person was going to be her best friend, Meadows.
Working with friends and family can be a sticky situation, but not when you’ve known your business partner for a long time.
“You know how some people start to look like their dog after a while? We’ll we’re starting to look more and more like each other,” Meadows said.
After time, both women likened a good friendship to that of a marriage. After so many years, you simply know a person.
Hough picked the right confidante. When we say we’re going to do something, we go out and do it, Hough said. Meadows and Hough got the keys to the 2401 18th St. address in April 2017 and opened its doors four months later in August.
Three weeks before their opening, they had yet to secure the details of the coffee aspect. After a chat with their banker, they learned he owned California Craft Coffee, a local coffee roastery, and voila.
Garces Memorial High School’s prom is being hosted at Belle Rae, not even a year after its grand opening.
Because the Belle Rae is an extension of their original homes, Hough and Meadows enlisted its occupants as well: their families.
Their husbands, who have done many of the woodworkings for SHE in the past, lent their muscles. And our children help by lending their opinions, Hough and Meadows said jokingly.
Hough and Meadows were certain from the start that the name was going to be the Belle Rae and nothing but.
Being an extension of their homes, the coffee shop aspect came about because Hough and Meadows wanted everyday visitors to feel like they were entering someone’s home and not a cold, officelike atmosphere.
Meadows and Hough don’t even like to consider their customers as “customers.”
Both women would love to be able to pass on the Belle Rae to their children, because frankly they couldn’t imagine someone else having a part of their home.