November 7, 2016
by Diana Nelson
Whenever I plan to meet someone in Homewood, the conversation goes something like this:
“Want to get coffee somewhere?”
“Sure. Where should we meet?”
“How about in East Liberty?”
Soon, my contacts and I will have two places to meet — for coffee, pastries, even vegan food — in Homewood.
Everyday Cafe claims to be the first cashless coffeehouse in the city and is expected to open next Monday at 532 N. Homewood Ave. Across the street, at 531 N. Homewood Ave., 7 Senses, a restaurant and catering company, is also days away from welcoming its first customers.
This is great news to report about a neighborhood in which the news is often not good.
The cafe, which occupies a former post office, is a project of the Bible Center Church, which owns the business, but it is part of a larger effort to catalyze entrepreneurial momentum.
Operation Better Block raised the money for the build-out of the cafe and three other businesses that reside in the Homewood Station complex, which includes 41 mixed-income apartments. It was completed in 2014.
“We have wanted to have a coffeehouse in the neighborhood for a long time,” said John Wallace, a professor of social work at the University of Pittsburgh and senior pastor at the Bible Center Church.
“Homewood doesn’t have good ‘third places,’ ” he said, referring to the idea that people need a third place — after the home and the workplace — for social sustenance. Those places are often bars and cafes. “Businesses like this start community conversations and promote collective efficacy. They give people a place to just talk about what’s going on.”
A community development-oriented and socially activist community, Bible Center raises produce through its Oasis Project and expects to supply the cafe with lettuce, basil and tomatoes. Operation Better Block’s youth grow produce, too, and Jerome Jackson, its executive director, said OBB is talking to 7 Senses’ owner, Tia Staples, about supplying produce to her business.
“It is exciting,” Mr. Jackson said. “I think because we were able to get people into commercial spaces [on one side of the street], it gave something for 7 Senses to tap into.”
The 500 block is right along the East Busway. Potential customers will come from nearby schools, including the Community College of Allegheny County branch, the Carnegie Library branch, the YMCA, the Afro American Music Institute, the Wheel Mill and the Animal Rescue League, Mr. Wallace said.
He said the cafe will be available for event rentals and live music.
Donna Taylor, the cafe’s manager, said the business motto is “Where a great cup of coffee and passionate people meet everyday.”
7 Senses is a new location for Ms. Staples’ catering business, which also will have an eight-seat restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She started her catering business in her home, then expanded to a church basement in North Braddock, where she lives.
When she outgrew that, she said she wanted to place her business in Homewood, where she was born and raised.
During recent weeks, she said, a lot of people have been peering in or knocking on the door to find out when she’s opening.
“I learned to cook from my grandma, who passed when I was 12,” she said. “I have a degree in psychology from Carlow University, but I always wanted to cook. My mother said, ‘That’s not a career.’ ”
Saying this, she made incredulous eyes at me. I laughed, thinking about all the psychology majors I have known who are delivering mail, balancing books and doing code.
“This is my second year in business, and it took off way more than I expected,” she said. “There were so many places to eat here when I was growing up. Now it’s just fast food. But people can come here for soup and salad,” including diabetic-friendly and vegan fare, she said.
“People can spend money in their own community. We have to get our community back. If we don’t build it up, who will?”
Another of the commercial spaces nearby has been occupied by Ahmad Sandidge’s photography studio for the past year.
“I made a conscious decision to move to Homewood,” he said. “I was in Friendship-Garfield for six years and decided to stop talking about things and start being about things. If the black community is going to be viable, we need to have a viable black business community in the city. We need the synergy of the black community supporting black businesses so everyone can thrive and everyone can eat.”