The idea of a social club often conjures images of men in blazers, perhaps smoking cigars, making deals in an exclusive (and historically exclusionary) space. That’s exactly the kind of image that the founders of BasBlue, a women-and-nonbinary-centered nonprofit space in a historic Victorian mansion in the city’s Cultural Center Historic District, are working to dispel.
Plush upholstered seating; soothing blue, yellow, and green tones; and ample natural lighting soften the interior’s otherwise imposing exposed red brick and dark wood detailing, providing a welcoming work space for a community that has historically been unwelcome in traditional networking environments.
It’s a vibe that founder Nancy Tellem and the rest of the BasBlue team have been cultivating since launching in 2021. Members can attend educational seminars and networking events in the space or hunker down with their laptop to work and enjoy a meal in the cozy cafe.
Tellem tapped Ping Ho, founder of Backbone Hospitality — the city’s only female-run hospitality group — which operates Marrow, Mink, and The Royce, to run the food and beverage programs at BasBlue. “Our Marrow team basically helps power the cafe,” says Ho. “So the staff here, they’re all BasBlue employees, but I think we see ourselves as very collaborative as a company that helps oversee the drive, direction, and execution of the cafe.”
At the cafe, BasBlue serves an array of sandwiches and soups using meats and broth from Marrow’s butcher shop and other grab-and-go items and baked goods from West Village Hand Pies, Ochre Bakery, Avalon Bakery, and Good Cakes and Bakes. The team has also launched Pop-Up for a Purpose, a monthly dining experience open to the public that showcases the culinary talents of local female chefs, while donating a portion of proceeds to a charity of the chef’s choice. Last month, Basblue hosted chef Ederique Goudia, who was awarded Eater Detroit’s Best Collaborative Food Experience in 2021 for her work with Raphael Wright and Jermond Booze with the Taste the Diaspora initiative.
“It’s a really gorgeous space, but also [I love] all the programming that they have available too,” Goudia said during the March pop-up event. “I love the program that they have available for women and I am actually very excited to apply for a Trailblazer-in-Residence. Hopefully, I can become a member and start working out of the space. It’s really beautiful and I’m glad they’re here.”
That Trailblazer-in-Residence program that Goudia referenced is among the many initiatives at BasBlue has taken on to acknowledge those who are working to make positive changes in their communities. Through the program, the nonprofit awards 100 need-based annual memberships to individuals who demonstrate innovation in developing businesses, creating tools, and creating opportunities.
In alignment with the rest of the BasBlue space, the cafe is striving to center women-led food businesses, local producers, and seasonality throughout its menu, a similar ethos adopted at Marrow, says Sarah Welch, executive chef at Marrow, and Kenna Dollete, the space’s kitchen manager.
“We try supplying through female-owned or -run businesses in the metro Detroit area,” says Dollette. “So we are keeping it as close as we possibly can. And then in Michigan, in the winter, it’s difficult to source [locally] but we work through a company called Cherry Capital Foods, which is a purveyor through Marrow and they are essentially like a collector source through larger Northern Michigan farms and bring produce down to Detroit.”
Dollete says she expects the summer menu to be vegetable-forward and more driven by local farms. One vegetarian option is the broccoli chop with red quinoa, shallots, parsley, tarragon, pistachios, lemon buttermilk dressing. A small selection of breakfast options are available as well including egg sandwich with hot honey or a daily quiche. “I would say that it’s more like a cafe offering than a full-on breakfast or dine-in experience, it’s about celebrating the space and certainly the food,” says Dollete. “We want people to feel like they’re relaxing in a home with excellent Wi-Fi, good music, and that they don’t have to clean when they leave.”
BasBlue also serves alcohol overseen by Liz Martinez, an award-winning sommelier who recently joined Backbone Hospitality, after stints at Madan and Prime and Proper, as well as several establishments in Chicago.
“Members get happy hours and free wine tastings twice a month through the beverage program,” says Dollete. “It was designed to, like the food, support small vendors, producers. The opening wine list was all-female winemakers from around the world.”
BasBlue’s membership costs vary from $600 yearly for women 35 and younger to $1,200 for women 36 and older. The space also offers grant programs and scholarships for those in various financial situations.
BasBlue is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and located at 110 E. Ferry St in Detroit. The cafe is open to the public, but proof of vaccination is required prior to entry.