Black coffee is a simple pleasure. It’s also a clever name for a black-owned coffee shop in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.
Black Coffee Cafe is a new and cozy coffee and coworking place with Afrocentric sweets and decor. We say new because it opened at the corner of John R and Kenilworth St. about a year ago, was open for six months, then closed for a few months when one of the partners got sick and they couldn’t keep the place up. assigned staff.
Back then it was called Kenilworth Cafe, although owner Steven Harris always wanted to use the Black Coffee name.
“I partnered with someone who thought it might have been offensive,” he says of the name. “So I said OK let’s call it Kenilworth Cafe since it’s on the corner of Kenilworth. But then I teamed up with other people who said no, that’s perfect – people like their coffee black and it’s good for marketing, so that’s when I went back to Black Coffee.”
Harris describes Black Coffee Cafe as a “hardcore coffee shop with very high-end coffee” sourced from Africa. While the main offering is a pour over with beans from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, the shop has all the typical lattes (yes, even pumpkin spice in the fall) and is working with local businesses Baobab Fare and Konjo Me to sell their coffee too.
African art, masks, and mud cloths decorate the quaint shop, making the seating area feel like a warm living room, and the display case is filled with cakes, vegan samosas, and Kanya, a gluten-free West African cookie made with rice flour. and nuts. The café also serves breakfast croissants and deli sandwiches.
Harris teamed up with Godwin Ihentuge of YumVillage to reopen the store under its original name.
“We’ve had some Afro-Caribbean style frittatas and teff muffins. We are just experimenting and trying things out,” says Ihentuge. “Our goal is to be a cafeteria with elements like Rose’s Fine Food where you can come in and order a deli-style sandwich or salad with an Afro-Caribbean twist. In the spring we are going to start doing more brunches.”
Behind the store is a large green space that the couple hopes to activate with live concerts, poetry nights and other community events in the warmer months. Harris, who is an architect, plans to outfit the space with around 35 shipping containers arranged in a horseshoe shape around a stage.
Along the edges of the grassy area is a row of co-working cubicles inside storm drains Harris designed with murals by Detroit artist Demien De Yonte. Its open-air design does not allow for winter use, but WiFi is available if you want to work in the summer sun.
Black Coffee Cafe adds to the community feel of the surrounding neighborhood where various Detroiters are working for independence, food sovereignty and equity.
Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, which manages Detroit’s first community land trust and co-facilitates the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, is just down the road. Harris owns the entire block of restaurants and retail space where Black Coffee Cafe is located, some of which he runs himself and some of which he rents out to local tenants. The block is wired with free community internet through the North End Woodward Community Coalition’s Fair Internet Initiative.
Harris’ other businesses in the corridor include the Byrd Social Lounge and Rosemary’s Kitchen, which he will open with the help of Coop Detroit Chef Max Hardy.
Byrd’s is a members-only hangout, but Harris plans to open it to the public as a cigar lounge next year.
Rosemary was scheduled to open this year, but also struggled to keep staff like most restaurants post-pandemic. Harris plans for the elevated soul joint with steaks, hot honey fried chicken, turkey cutlets and burgers to be fully operational by January 2023.
Black Coffee Cafe is located at 9405 John R, Detroit. More information is available at blackcoffee.cafe.
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