Bridge Community Cafe, a new coffee shop and community space near Michigan Ave. and S. Adams St., celebrated its grand opening on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
Maria Pomo Castillo, an EMU alumna, Noon Ladd, and Sierra Lambert, a current political science student at EMU, co-founded and co-own the business. All three have a background in mutual aid and frontline work abroad. Bridge Community Cafe, they said, is inspired by different community spaces they’ve spent time in around the globe.
“Something through all of our travels we’ve experienced or visited. . . is radical coffee shops and organizing spaces, and true community gathering spaces,” Pomo Castillo said. “And so we’re like, ‘Ypsi is lacking that.’ And we were bringing a lot of different ideas into one central location.”
“Being Bridge Community Cafe, we do want to be a bridge for people in this community, and to other communities as well, and to sort of create this network that extends beyond Ypsi, and hopefully reach a wider range of people to sort of uplift their business,” Ladd said.
With the global community in mind, the Bridge Community Cafe team chose to collaborate with Queer Wave Coffee. The Oakland, California-based coffee roasting company was founded by Cheyenne Xochítl Love, an Indigenous, two-spirit, non-binary trans woman. Love employs an equitable trade model when buying coffee beans from an indigenous farming community in Honduras.
“The fair trade price for coffee is like $1.70 per pound,” Lambert said. “But for the green beans, Cheyenne pays $4. So she has an equitable trade model for coffee, so everybody is getting paid the same amount.”
Ladd, Lambert, and Pomo Castillo also meet about once a month with the representatives from their sister cafe, a restaurant and cultural center called La Red Kat, to exchange ideas. Based in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, the center has been successful in encouraging ex-migrants to return to and rebuild the local community. They hope Bridge Community Cafe will serve as a similar hub in Ypsilanti.
The team made it a priority to make the cafe accessible and affordable, starting with a “Pay-it-Forward” program. Patrons have the option to buy a coffee sleeve that serves as a voucher for a free coffee for another patron who may not be able to afford their own. Soon, the cafe will also be serving soup once a week at a pay-what-you-can rate.
While they plan to host a variety of educational programs in the future, including community medic trainings and “Know Your Rights” trainings for immigrants and youth, Ladd wants local organizers and creatives to know that they’re more than welcome to use the space for their own events.
“We would love, also, just people within the community with ideas, wanting to do a poetry reading, or wanting to do a film screening, or even just a craft night,” Ladd said. “Having people also approach this space with ideas, and not just be us.”
“Also, everybody loves coffee,” Lambert added. “So not everyone wants to come and be like, ‘Oh, let me go donate or let me go do that, or go out of my way to do this thing.’ But if you’re here, you come to get coffee, you see something going on, then you might be more inclined to get involved. So really, coffee is the bridge too.”
Starting a business mid-pandemic
All three women are first-time business owners, and pandemic-related public health guidelines have kept them on their toes. They’ve spent the last few months making decisions about whether to mandate masks, how to best space out seating, and how to navigate another lockdown.
The business has already seen the impact of supply chain shortages. One order that was supposed to arrive two days before the cafe’s grand opening ended up coming a day after the big day.
Lambert also pointed out that businesses that started mid-pandemic didn’t have the same financial safety net as already-established businesses.
“The businesses that started before COVID got a lot of relief, but if you started in the middle of the pandemic, there was no incentive for that,” Lambert said. “. . .We’ve run into that so many times. We think we’re eligible for one thing, and it’s like, ‘No, if you weren’t established before this date, you’re not.”
A welcoming space
The art that graces the cafe’s walls is visible even from the sidewalk. Artist Natia Stanley, a friend of Lambert’s, painted the three main murals. Lambert’s original vision for the space included a swarm of butterflies to symbolize migration across borders. She also wanted to incorporate the coat of arms displayed on the Mexican flag.
“I just was like, ‘Alright, well this is what we have. We don’t know.’ And then [Stanley] really just put it together and broke it up into three big murals rather than one.”
Exemplifying their idea of community, a quote is displayed on the wall by the entrance from writer and educator Gina Valdé.
“Hay tantísimas fronteras que dividen a la gente, pero por cada frontera existe también un puente."
Which translates to, “There are so many borders that divide people, but for every border there also exists a bridge."
More information can be found about Bridge Community Cafe at bridgecommunity.cafe.