I met Angela Foster, the owner of Coffee and (_____) on a visit with the SWOT City team – Regina, Phillip, and Jimmy – to the East Jefferson neighborhood, a once striving manufacturing community now dotted with vacant storefronts and abandoned buildings. As I strolled down the empty streets under the lethargic afternoon sun, I couldn’t help but to question why anyone would decide to open a coffee shop here ...
As we approached Coffee and (_____), two bright red sun umbrellas juxtaposed by a bright neon sign entered my sight. This is the undoubtedly the most colorful storefront along the entire stretch of East Jefferson corridor. As I pulled the doors open, the aroma of newly brewed coffee and freshly baked apple pie poured out. In contrast to the barrenness outside, the interior of Coffee and (______) has a different milieu. Paintings from local artists, overhead lights made from used bike wheels, and a cozy couch built from refurbished wooden planks added a signature “Detroit vibe” to the cozy dwelling.
Angela greeted us with a welcoming smile and introduced us to the pastry of the day – a gluten-free apple pie. I couldn’t resist the smell but was too full to ask for a slice. While Regina and Phillip savored their slices, I let my eyes wander at the people here. Some sat along the bar, quietly sipping a jar of ice-brewed coffee, some indulged themselves in pastries and conversations, some simply sat in the corner, browsing magazines while enjoying a warm cup of latte. Suddenly, I realized, what Angela created is not simply a coffee shop, but a hub for the community to come together in their own neighborhood.
Angela, a classically trained bakery chief, first moved to Detroit with nothing but an idea of the potential Detroit has. When she first started as a pop-up shop last year, she named her coffee shop “Coffee and (_____)” – coffee and (whatever she decides to make). In the beginning, Angela didn’t have the capital to start her own business. However, neighborhood residents, excited about the idea of finally having a coffee shop in the community, poured in to help. Many donated furniture, others stayed until the wee hours of the night to help clean up the space. Some people brought in plants to brighten up the space – one person even brought in an espresso maker. Coffee and (_____) became not only Angela’s coffee shop, but a coffee shop created by the community, for the community.
Many small businesses are spurring up across the city of Detroit, revitalizing the city, one neighborhood at a time. Over the past two weeks in Detroit, I had the privilege of meeting a handful of business owners that the SWOT City team works with in the neighborhoods of Detroit. Of course, many qualities of the title “entrepreneur” apply to them, but they are far from flawless. Some are struggling with finding a permanent storefront; others are tirelessly navigating through the legal documents of starting a new enterprise, some have never learned how to read a financial statement. They are owners of bakeries, restaurants, boutique shops, grocery deliveries, bookstores, and car repair shops. But they all share one thing in common – they are deeply rooted in the communities they serve. No social entrepreneur embarks the journey solo. They all share the realization that their businesses do not only create a sense of ownership for themselves, but also a sense of ownership for the communities they are a part of.
I am certain Detroit is not going to change through the works of the extraordinary few, but through the determination of many ordinary people who are committed to their communities.