By Pat Byington
Birmingham’s Ensley Historic Business District is prime for a resurgence.
Last week, The Modern House Coffee Shop hosted a pop-up shop event at 602 19th Street in downtown Ensley. Officially opening this fall, the community-focused coffee house is the brainchild of founder Troy Whetstone.
“The coffee shop isn’t just about lattes and mochas. The shop will hire people experiencing homelessness to work full-time for a livable wage,” according to Whetstone in a Rev Birmingham news release.
“I think Ensley is the perfect community,” Whetstone said. “I think that’s why God led me this way because it’s a community of second chances. We’re looking to give a second chance to people and do that through coffee.”
A nonprofit organization, The Modern House Coffee Shop is partnering with SEEDS in Birmingham’s Lakeshore District to supply high quality coffee. They are also enlisting local caterers to supply bakery and other food items.
“The concept of The Modern House is to basically bring coffee and community together,” added Jeanisha Whetstone, Troy’s wife, during the pop-up shop event.
In the coming months, while the future space for The Modern House Coffee is being renovated, the Whetstones expect to hold additional pop-up events to build momentum and prepare for their fall opening. Bookmark their website-coffeeandcommunity.com– and like their Facebook page to learn about future events and to keep up with their progress.
Since The Modern House Coffee is currently under construction, Saturday’s pop-up event was held at the adjacent unit in the building, a conference space aptly called “Believe.”
Before the event, we spoke with Brian K. Rice, the developer of the building that will house The Modern House Coffee and the Believe conference space. Rice, who is also developing seven additional buildings on Ensley’s 19th Street told us how the conference space got its name.
“The reason I named it ‘Believe’ is because it is the one thing you need in you when everything is going against you,” said Rice.
Along with the coffeehouse and the conference space, Rice described how he intends to transform 19th Street, developing co-working office space, lofts, and an art gallery. He is also working on locating a tech incubator and recruiting restaurants.
Rice is seeking businesses and residents that are willing to plant deep roots in the community. He said:
“In the Believe space, 25 percent of all conference rentals will go to nonprofits in Ensley. We believe we must keep in mind the community. We can’t take money out of the community. We have to figure out how to put money back.”
Giving Back By Mentoring
Rice also wants to encourage the businesses he recruits to incorporate mentoring and giving back to the local community.
“Anyone else I recruit to go in the space (other developments), it doesn’t matter whether they are in engineering, an architect or marketing person; to me I feel like they have to mentor once or twice a month, some type a way, adults or kids, because our community needs to see successful people. I’m challenging everybody that leases from me to do something good in this community. It needs it.”
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