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Detroit’s Utopian Restaurant Pop-Up Aims to Build a Permanent Home

The organization behind Dream Cafe is shooting for an everlasting location by 2021

Valaurian Waller of V.W. Photography/Dream Cafe [Official image]
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

FoodLab Detroit is one big step closer to opening a permanent version of its ethical restaurant pop-up Dream Cafe this week. The nonprofit, which promotes food justice and supports dozens of local food businesses in the city, received a $35,000 grant through the Kresge Foundation on Thursday to begin planning for the opening of a Dream Cafe. The organization aims to open in the city by 2021, as Tostada Magazine originally reported.

The grant represents a major step in FoodLab’s journey towards opening a model restaurant. The organization has explored the possibility of starting a food business in Detroit for several years now and was at one time in talks to open a food hall in Grandmont-Rosedale. Last June in partnership with the Allied Media Conference, FoodLab opened a week-long pop-up inside of Cass Cafe called the Dream Cafe. The project featured more than a dozen restaurants and food business run by women, members of the LGBTQ community, and people of color.

FoodLab’s executive director Devita Davison tells Eater that she’s looking forward to the opportunity to design a permanent Dream Cafe. Davison says that all food business formats are currently on the table as the organization gets to work creating its plan. “Regardless of whether it’s a sit down restaurant, a coffee shop, or something else... it will be created and built with the same guiding principles that went into the Dream Cafe,” she says. That means centering the project around people of color, paying a fair wage, and creating a equitable space that’s welcoming and rooted in the neighborhood where it resides. “I am interested in creating a model that can be replicated,” she says.

Davison says that she was inspired by Thursday’s ceremony and the number of Kresge grant awardees that were developing food-related projects in neighborhoods across the city. Those projects range from Aunt Na’s House — a commercial kitchen space in the Nardin Park/Russell Woods area — to Dream of Detroit, a commercial kitchen and walk-up restaurant near Boston Edison and LaSalle Gardens. “That’s telling me that food is still on the top of everybody’s list as a conduit for shaping communities.”

FoodLab hopes to select an appropriate location for Dream Cafe this year. Davison is interested in locations such as Grandmont-Rosedale that have a strong community organization that can identify the needs of the neighborhood and leverage resident support. She’s seeking out locations close to FoodLab member businesses, so that the Dream Cafe can “cluster” and create more business density. FoodLab is also looking for areas with a dense population of residents and young people who could both patronize and work at the Dream Cafe.

Part of FoodLab’s planning work this year will include determining whether to rent or buy property. “We are really at this crossroads and we will be weighing the pros and cons of will we be buying that building or will we be leasing that building,” she says. One potential area FoodLab is considering is the Core City and Woodbridge neighborhood where Allied Media Project recently purchased property.

With the planning grant, FoodLab intends to identify a location and create a firm business plan within the next nine months to 12 months. After that, the organization will be eligible to apply for a $150,000 implementation grant through Kresge to open the Dream Cafe.

In the meantime, FoodLab is working to refine what it means to run an ethical food business through its nine-month-long panel series, On The Table, whose topics include issues such as harassment in the restaurant industry. Fans of the Dream Cafe won’t have to until 2021 to visit the Dream Cafe again. The Allied Media Conference is expected to return in 2020 after a one-year hiatus and Davison confirms that the pop-up will be back, too. “We’re coming back with a vengeance and I can guarantee we’ll be doing a Dream Cafe again next year.”

FoodLab Detroit Is a Step Closer to Taking Dream Cafe From Popup to Brick & Mortar [Tostada Magazine]
Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit Grants for Plans and Projects Span City [Kresge]
Future Detroit Food Hall Could Keep $107M From Leaving the Neighborhood [NextCity]
All Coming Attractions Coverage [ED]

Cass Cafe

4620 Cass Avenue, , MI 48201 (313) 831-1400 Visit Website