DENVER — The feeling hits as soon as you walk inside the Welton Street Cafe. Some call it a ‘vibe;' others might describe it as a sense of comfort or a feeling of home. Art from Black creatives lines the walls near snap shots of customers with music playing in the background.
Co-owner Fathima Dickerson says it’s by design, “This is like the neighborhood kitchen. Welton Street Cafe is for your soul. It’s more than just food.”
This is their final time serving meals on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. “Today is our last Black holiday, in a Black business, in a Black space,” said Dickerson.
In March, this decades-old neighborhood restaurant will move a few blocks away to a newer and bigger space. Dickerson simply says it’s time, “Change is necessary. We’ve outgrown this space.”
After 22 years, Welton Street Cafe held its last brunch on Martin Luther King Jr. day.
The restaurant has been in business for 36 years with 22 of them in its current building at 27th and Welton in the Five Points neighborhood in Denver. Dickerson’s family moved from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands in 1986 and decided to open a business.
Dickerson says it was a natural progression. “When my mom was in the islands she used to cook for a lot of families so she wanted to see if she could start a restaurant.”
The last two years navigating a global pandemic have been one of the biggest challenges the owners of Welton Street Cafe have ever faced.
“It’s by God’s grace that Welton Street Cafe is still standing,” said Dickerson, but their upcoming move is what’s foremost on her mind. “It’s taking risks. Growth is not easy. Change is not easy. This is like moving out of a house. I grew up in this space.”
Customers are turning out to show their support, especially since the Welton Street Cafe is usually closed on Mondays.
“It’s Martin Luther King Day. Everyone from the Marade should come down and partake in the food and fellowship,” says Bev Reddick-Jenkins, a long time resident of Five Points. She says the Welton Street Cafe has been a key part of this community, “We come here after church and we see friends on Thursdays.”
Dickerson hopes that sense of connection continues after the restaurant moves to its new location on 28th and Welton.
“We have a customer directory. If haven’t seen someone in a while it’s like, ‘Hey let me call up Miss Jones and see how she’s doing and how the family is doing,'” said Dickerson.
The owners recently started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for the relocation. Dickerson wants people to know that despite the struggles of the last few years and changes to the restaurant industry; they are not giving up.
“You have pop-ups and sandwich shops and quick places. We are not seen as people. We are not human anymore. We’re just a number or an order," Dickerson explained. "Welton Street Cafe allows me … allows people to witness us working together as a family. It allows us to see families come in together and spend time together.”
This year's Martin Luther King Jr. Day will look a bit different on the Western Slope. Black Citizens and Friends, which hosts the annual event, has decided to cancel all celebratory events, joining the King family in protest of the recently failed voting bills in the U.S. Senate.