Detroit’s ‘Dream Cafe’ recipe for local success

In this April 24 photo, from left, Le’Genevieve Squires, of Relish Catering, and Viana Rickett, of Simple Goodness Detroit, prepare plates with smoked leg of lamb during a pop-up dinner at Brooklyn Street Local in Detroit. Four women-owned businesses collaborated to create a pop-up dinner with drink pairings. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News via AP)

By MELODY BAETENS
Detroit News
AP Member Exchange
DETROIT — When the Allied Media Conference returns to Detroit in June for its 20th year, a new dynamic will be in place to highlight Detroit-owned food businesses and connect global chefs to local farms who have community and social justice in mind.
One focus of the DIY media summit set for Thursday through Sunday at Wayne State University will be a “Dream Cafe” where a group of local and national chefs will take over the Cass Cafe in Midtown to serve pop-up meals using locally grown food. The cafe, prominently featuring female chefs, will be open to conference attendees and the public.
The Detroit News reports that finding affordable and nourishing food that is equitable and sustainable is a persistent challenge, not just in Detroit but all over the country, said Allied Media Conference’s culinary director Ora Wise. She said the point of the conference, which draws 2,000-3,000 people each year, is to develop ways to overcome these obstacles and share best practice models.
“The AMC is a gathering for thinkers and doers,” said Wise, a food professional who also runs a youth organization in New York City and organizes events there and in Detroit. “People using a creative mediums — arts, media, technology — to create more just and collaborative communities, where they’re from.”
This is the first year the conference will have this level of food programming, Wise said. Organizers want to create a platform for businesses to share best practices for being sustainable, ethical and profitable, and also to influence the rest of the food industry to do the same. Other focuses of the conference include journalism, performances, healing, queer and trans issues, children’s programming and what Wise called, “lots of centering the voices of our elders, especially those in Detroit that we have to learn from.”
Along with Dream Cafe, the conference will host a Community Food Hub, a pop-up outdoor market across from the Cass Cafe that will feature 11 local farms owned by people of color. The chefs cooking at Cass Cafe that week are being encouraged to use as many ingredients as they can from the farms, such as Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, D-Town Farm and Fisheye Farms.
“It’s raising awareness that people of color are growing food in Detroit and that our food is a good quality, healthy food, and we want to be able to get that message out there — not only to the Metro Detroit area but across the nation — that we’re here,” said Jerry Ann Hebron of Oakland Avenue Urban Farm.
For a decade, Hebron’s farm has been growing food just outside of Hamtramck near Arden Park. Employing up to 16 people during the season, they grow tomatoes, collards, kale, beans and peas.
Hebron said she doesn’t necessarily believe that Detroit is the “food desert” it has been painted as in the past.
“People have options. People don’t have enough options,” Hebron said, adding that people need access to healthier choices.
Wise said her goal with the Dream Cafe and Community Food Hub is to create a space where local and visiting chefs can learn from, connect with and teach each other to use food to heal, transform and empower their communities.
Over that weekend, breakfast and lunch will be served at the Dream Cafe by a different pair of black-owned Detroit food businesses. Why only black-owned businesses? Research has shown that minority business owners have a harder time getting financial backing than their white counterparts.
In 2013 the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy published a report that found Hispanic and Black entrepreneurs are less likely to be approved for loans and lines of credit than whites. The Washington Post reported that, according to the Federal Reserve, minorities that are approved pay higher interest rates than whites.
Ederique Goudia of FoodLab Detroit, who organized the daytime collaborations, said the pairings each day include business owners at different stages so there is an opportunity to learn from each other. Founded in 2011, FoodLab Detroit is a nearly 200-member community of Detroit food businesses.
“We’re partnering two businesses,” Goudia said. “Maybe one is a little more advanced where they have a brick-and-mortar (restaurant) already and the other members whose goal is to become a brick-and-mortar. It gives them a chance to tell their story and also gives them an ability to focus on seasonal and local menu items — highlighting those farms and building relationships with those local farmers…”