We had the good fortune of connecting with Christie Melby-Gibbons and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christie, what is the most important factor behind your success?
The most important factor behind the success of Tricklebee Cafe is generosity. The more we share of the abundance we have, the more abundance seems to flow back to us. A youth from the neighborhood who has been actively involved in our pay-what-you-can community cafe since we opened in 2016 asked me the other day: “How do you stay open if everything is technically free?!” He was truly baffled. I told him that “kindness begets kindness.” Generosity is one of those traits that catches people’s attention. (Perhaps because it can be difficult to come by?) Cultivating generosity helps us to create a space that is welcoming for all people. Our hope is that everyone who eats one of our meals, or stops by for a conversation, feels that they are loved and worthy of much love.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Tricklebee Cafe is a pay-what-you-can community cafe that offers healthy meals, food service training, and spiritual nourishment. At Tricklebee Cafe, we value: resourcefulness. We grow much of our own organic produce and herbs in a community garden across the street from us, and on our cafe lawn. We also compost all food waste, and use only biodegradable to-go containers & cutlery. We receive so many fresh produce donations (from farmers and food pantry leftovers) throughout the year that we are sometimes nearly overwhelmed with the abundance. When this happens and we are unable to put things up in a reasonable timeline, we then give it back to our community. After all, it is all gift. At Tricklebee Cafe, we value health. We recognize the racial disparities that exist in our city, including the food insecurity that is systemically ingrained in our community. (There are no grocery stores for a mile or more in all directions of our cafe. Yet, there are ample corner stores, which lack real food.) At our cafe, we offer plant-based, delicious meals that are freshly-made each day. These meals are not reserved for those who can pay. All may eat here. We believe that everyone deserves healthy food.
At Tricklebee Cafe, we value joy. Our staff and volunteers commit to creating a work environment that is relaxed, creative, and fun. If you peruse through our Facebook photos, you’ll see so many smiling faces. 🙂
The purpose of Tricklebee Cafe is to be rooted in the places of greatest need. We thrive because we are rooted in our community, which fosters meaningful and mutual relationships. Our purpose is aligned with Jesus of Nazareth who said of the hungry crowd: “I do not want them to go away hungry.” Many families in our area are food insecure and only have access to highly processed food from corner stores, with fresh produce rarely being available. Many of these neighbors lack cars and live over a mile from a grocery store. As a member of One World Everybody Eats, our customers may volunteer in exchange for a meal, or “pay it forward” for othersʼ meals. We promote food security by providing nutritious, affordable, locally sourced meals to all. Through our licensed kitchen, we also provide training to the under-employed in order to help them seek dignified jobs and sustainable incomes in foodservice and hospitality. We also share our kitchen with local food entrepreneurs (all women of color).
Our pay-what-you-can model takes the emphasis off of money and puts it on the exchange of good(nes)s, presuming that everyone has something to offer. Most of our customers pay something, and some with more means often pay more. Customers who cannot pay may volunteer in exchange for a meal. We know firsthand that generosity begets generosity.
It was not easy to establish our community cafe. I searched up and down North Avenue for months for the right fixer-upper storefront for our cafe. The right storefront chose me, yet the landlord was initially skeptical about our enthusiasm to transform the rundown space into an eatery. Renovations began on the cafe space in November 2015. A month later, we incorporated as a Wisconsin nonprofit. Our 501(c)3 status with the IRS was then granted after 2 attempts. (They couldn’t quite figure us out: A restaurant with no set prices?!) After a solid year of hardcore renovating with dozens of volunteers and a few hired contractors, we then opened our doors in November 2016. We have been thriving ever since. Initially, people would say to us: “You’re crazy! A pay-what-you-can cafe will never last. I’ll give you 2 months!” or “You can’t serve vegan food in a poor black neighborhood, because no one will eat here.” Well, turns out that neighbors love our food, and we are now coming up on our 6th year of operating! 🙂
The lesson I have learned along the way is: Be tenacious in going after that which gives you life and that which betters life for those around you. There were many times I was tempted to give up because it got difficult. But I kept going, and my community kept showing up to help. It’s beautiful what happens when neighbors come together.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If my best friend were coming to town for a week, we would go to Grant Park (Seven Bridges) on the South Side of Milwaukee for a little hike in the magical forest and some time on the edge of Lake Michigan. There are beautiful rocks along the shore there, and a slightly submerged stone piling that goes out into the water just below the surface. Walking out on the piling is delightfully disorienting with the soft cladophora (green algae) under foot, swaying with each wave that passes over. We would then go the Value Village (thrift store) on 27th St. for some perusing of the racks. It is a great store with weekly half-off-everything days! We would then swing by Alice’s Garden Urban Farm for one of their garden markets, where we could eat delicious vegan fare from local food entrepreneurs, shop at local makers’ booths, and stroll through the well-kept garden plots. We could walk the herbal labyrinth while there, and grab some cherries and apples from the orchard that lines the southern fence. While at the garden, we’d make sure to get a good hug from Venice Williams, the herbalist who is the executive director.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
One World Everybody Eats (OWEE) is a network of community cafes across the U.S. that utilize pay-what-you-can pricing and other healthy practices. I am grateful for the immense help that I have received from member cafes in the OWEE network over the years, from applying for non-profit status to writing bylaws and an employee handbook. When I joined the OWEE network, I found my people. Though we come from varied backgrounds (ethnic, socio-economic, faith affiliations, etc.), we all work to make sure that all are fed, regardless of their ability to pay. The OWEE family is close-knit, and the kindness runs deep. Tricklebee Cafe would not be what it is today with the OWEE relationships.