Area coffee house expands offerings to include breakfast, lunch and dinner
by Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
Bradley Thurman, co-owner of Coffee Makes U Black Coffee House, 2803 N. Teutonia Ave.—located in the Inner City Development Project (ICDP)—sees the long rectangular ground floor of his establishment as a gathering place for the community; where grass root and professional folks meet and greet each other to talk about a variety of topics over a cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea.
Coffee Makes U Black is also a rendezvous point for a loose confederation of Black men from all walks of Milwaukee life who meet the first Saturday of each month to discuss timely issues important to Black men and their condition in American society.
When not serving coffee, tea or topics of interest, the airy space with large windows that lets in the sun to shine on Black art and photographs of famous African Americans and scenes of Black life from the past, Coffee Makes U Black hosts forums, meetings, and wedding receptions. It even doubles as a movie theater or art gallery.
Now Thurman, a retired Milwaukee firefighter, hopes Coffee Makes U Black becomes synonymous with breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Since August of 2010 when it finished constructing a commercial kitchen, Coffee Makes U Black has been serving bacon, sausage and eggs to go along with its African imported coffees or the lemon-ginger and mango house tea, a favorite with many customers.
“I wouldn’t take no for an answer; (I) made up my mind to do it,” Thurman said about his determination to build a kitchen despite having little money.
Thurman said he used the same approach building the kitchen he used in rehabbing the ICDP building that houses the coffee house and several small businesses located on the upper level: He utilized the kindness and experise of friends and electrical and plumbing contractors he knew in the community.
Thurman sees breakfast (and a Friday fish fry and Sunday dinner offering) as the first step towards realizing his dream of having a full-fledged restaurant satisfying the community’s appetite for good food and fine dining.
“Coffee provided the inroads to the restaurant business,” “We give a good, decent home-style meal,” Thurman proudly proclaimed during a recent interview.
All the food Coffee Makes U Black serves is made from scratch, including the rolls served with the Sunday dinners and the mixes used to make pancakes and waffles.
“We even bake our own bread,” Thurman said, adding they were baking the bread at another building he owned, but are now transitioning that operation to the coffee house kitchen.
Thurman is conscious of the new emphasis on healthy eating and stressed that all the food is fresh and not canned; from the turkey and dressing, candied yams to the peach cobbler served on Sundays.
“We offer baked and fried chicken,” said Thurman. “We also have two vegetables. We cook the greens with smoked turkey.”
Thurman said they are doing “pretty good” business with the breakfast offering, averaging between 15 and 18 customers a day.
“Our goal is 40 customers a day to allow the restaurant to stand on its own,” Thurman added. “We’re halfway to where we need to be.”
Because of the breakfast menu, Thurman is encouraged by the pick-up in business he’s seen at the coffee house overall, noting customers who have sampled the breakfast offerings have been satisfied with its quality and have passed-on that fact to their friends.
It’s this word-of-mouth advertising, Thurman believes, that will keep the doors of Coffee Makes U Black open.
The coffee house and budding restaurant illustrates Thurman’s philosophy of taking personal responsibility for the economic development of his community; to create entities that employ Black people where they live.
The majority of Thurman’s seven employees were jobless for three to four years before he hired them.
“Job creation is what I’m trying to develop with the business,” Thurman said.
Like other Black business owners and entrepreneurs, Thurman believes Black people must be willing to do business with each other.
He noted the number of Black owned eateries that have failed in recent years—most notably Stellas and Manna House—because they didn’t have enough people sitting in the seats eating their food to make up for the huge financial investment they put into realizing a dream.
“I think sometimes we as (Black) people look past a lot of our local businesses to go downtown or to Brookfield Square to get the latest hot thing in the majority community,” Thurman said.
Thurman believes the key to success for businesses now and in the future is diversity, being involved in multiple ventures that generate income.
Putting his philosophy into practice, Thurman rents office space within the ICDP building. He also owns the building next door that houses a daycare. He said it’s the renting of office space that keeps the doors of the ICDP building open. Not food or coffee.
Thurman believes the economy has made it through the roughest time and is on the upswing, adding the same can be said out his business.
“We have two wedding receptions booked,” Thurman said. “People are starting to come in and book events with us. We even have business seminars coming. Our mission now is to keep the doors open.”
Looking back on his experiences since 2003 when he, his brother Eugene and his wife Laurie first opened the door to Coffee Makes U Black, Thurman is proud of what they have accomplished and are excited with what the future holds.
“With what we had to work with (in the beginning), we’ve come a long way,” Thurman said. “We’ve come to realize that we (the community) have to do things for ourselves. We can’t depend on handouts or grants to succeed.
“I have a saying: ‘It snowed one day and I made a snowball. But people joined in and we made a snowman.’”