Sip, Sip, Hooray

Sip Coffee Bar in Red Bluff…

For Michelle McNeal, sophomore year at Red Bluff High held a little more anxiety than for the average young person entering a new year of high school. “I was new to town. I didn’t know a bunch of people and I didn’t have many friends,” she says. “I wasn’t happy about moving and starting a whole new life.” Gratefully, the transplant from Ripon was assigned a class with Red Bluff native Erika Atwell and the two became fast friends.

Photos by Alexis LeClair.

Those bonds would only strengthen over the years, so much so that when Michelle faced the closure of the coffee shop she had transitioned to after 10 years of being a stay-at-home mom, Atwell swooped in with the confidence for the two to buy it. “Michelle texted me that we couldn’t let this place close,” says Atwell. “We love this place.”

The place is SIP Coffee Bar on Walnut Street in Red Bluff. To let it close when owner Cheri Kimberlin was ready to move to new adventures would have meant the loss of a place where McNeal was thriving as a barista and a space the friends, and many others, had come to know as a home away from home.

Photos by Alexis LeClair.

“I actually grew up four houses down from the coffeehouse,” says Atwell. “It’s meant to be. I had to have it. Michelle worked here so she taught me everything.” The whole thing came together in one week, when Atwell decided she could transition from the insurance business to small business entrepreneur and McNeal realized she could go from employee to co-owner.

Together, the duo is continuing the best of what they loved about SIP Coffee Bar and expanding to put their own spin on things. “Cheri had already set the foundation for us,” says McNeal. “When she hired me, I loved being here.”

Photos by Alexis LeClair.

“We wanted to make it family friendly, kid friendly,” says Atwell. “I have a 3-year-old so we have a play area. We want to be a place where moms come in and meet and have a place for their kids to play. We’re dog friendly with an outdoor space with picnic tables. We also wanted to create a place for teenagers to come and do their homework.”

“Honestly, just buying a business in town has opened my eyes to how important it is to support our local businesses,” says McNeal. SIP serves pastries from local bakeries Sunshine’s and The Little Things and serves tri-tip sandwiches from Blane’s Blazin’ BBQ in Happy Valley, owned by Atwell’s husband. In addition to traditional and seasonal espresso drinks made from Chico’s Rhapsody Coffee, the shop has small bites like avocado toast, breakfast burritos and sandwiches and egg bites.

Photos by Alexis LeClair.

“One of our biggest things is giving back to our community,” says Atwell. “We’ve donated coffee to the Turkey Trot and Junior Livestock Auction at the fair. We try to give back as much as we can.” They have also held a fundraiser and awareness event for Empower Tehama, a nonprofit organization supporting people impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We have a lot of regulars but we also get a lot of people traveling through,” says McNeal. “They tend to Google us and want to go to a local coffee shop. They love it and the little kid area.”

Photos by Alexis LeClair.

Atwell and McNeal, now in their early 30s, purchased SIP in March 2023 but celebrated their grand re-opening in late October. “Honestly, we were not sure what we were getting into,” McNeal says with a laugh. “We’ve never worked together before.”

But so far, so good. “Michelle worked here so she taught me everything,” adds Atwell. Together, they are creating the business of their dreams, where the community can

gather to enjoy a great coffee and bite to eat in comfort and welcome.

“We do make everything with love,” says McNeal. •

SIP Coffee Bar
905 Walnut St., Red Bluff • (530) 216-5190

About Melissa Mendonca

Melissa is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.

Related Posts