With its patio, evening tapas and organic offerings, you might even say Tonia’s Blue Moon Café has a European flair. Pretty mothers with babies alongside in strollers, busy professionals meeting for a quick bite and office gossip or a solitary figure enjoying a drink – it’s a changing tapestry on Hay Street.
The owners, James and Tonia Collins, are eager to introduce customers to the joys of organic food and drink, in keeping with their philosophy that fresh and natural is the best thing to have on any menu.
“Fayetteville is slowly transitioning to an appreciation of organic foods and an emphasis on more natural ingredients,” Tonia says. “We’re already serving organic breads and some organic wines. In fact, we’re looking into another organic line of wines.”
And the fare is as sophisticated as you might expect at the city’s only tapas bar. The trend comes from a long tradition in Spain where restaurants pair small appetizers with drinks. At Blue Moon, one can enjoy a drink or two, partake of the tapas and emerge onto Hay Street, pleasantly full, but not so lethargic that you won’t want to stroll along and enjoy everything else there is to find in downtown Fayetteville.
James and Tonia say they use the freshest ingredients they can find and are proud of the organic coffees and wines they serve. With some reluctance, the café recently began serving Diet Coke, responding to demand from customers who prefer something lighter than the organic fruit-flavored drinks or root beers that are available.
But patrons enjoy the natural selections – and atmosphere, too.
Amber Smith says it reminds her of Europe. “I lived in Europe until about a year ago,” she said, “and I like to come here because the architecture and the atmosphere are more appealing than a fast food restaurant can offer.”
Fayetteville native Helen Carter travels downtown specifically to lunch at Blue Moon.
“I like their food,” she said, looking up from the remains of a fresh and tasty salad. “I like the atmosphere, too, and it is really wonderful to be downtown and see all that’s going on around here.”
To think, James and Tonia Collins fell into Blue Moon by chance. In 2006, they were mere property investors when they bought the building near the apex of Hay and Old streets, not far from the former Point News. The couple did not realize they were buying the restaurant business, too. When no one else stepped forward to operate the café, the two of them looked at each other, shrugged and agreed to keep the café going, adding Tonia’s name.
“Both of us were interested in the restaurant business,” Tonia says. “So we kept it going, and it is kind of fun, like having a never-ending party at your house.”
As young, successful entrepreneurs, the Collinses seem to be enjoying their increasingly hectic life. They are parents to four teenagers, and Tonia admits that juggling their busy schedules, and those of their children, can make for some long and tiring days. But she beams with pride when speaking of the kids – Max, Megan, Katelyn and Summer.
The Collins family is now a partner in a new venture at Huske Hardware House Restaurant and a Wet Willie’s franchise. Still property investors, they are now also full-fledged restauranteurs. And they like to travel. Wherever they go, they visit the city centers of their destinations. James is from Miami. Tonia is a native of Fayetteville with fond memories of the city as it was when The Capitol, Belk and other stores were located downtown.
“My dad worked at Sears,” she recalls, “and it’s wonderful to see how downtown Fayetteville is coming back.”
Blue Moon has certainly been a part of that rebirth.
The café is currently open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday -Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday; and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. These hours may extend as summer wears on. One is most likely to find the place full on Wednesday evenings, when $2 Blue Moon beers are offered.