By Imani Williams
DETROIT – The Meetery Eatery Cafe, located in Midtown, closed its doors on Aug. 25 after its lease was not renewed. Open for business just shy of three and a half years, owners Jerry and Sonya Brown brought a family and community feel to their Woodward Avenue cyber cafe, which was a popular LGBT hangout.
In 2003, entrepreneur Jerry Brown was the owner of three Little Caeser restaurants. Unhappy with the lack of creative control being offered thru Little Caesers, he decided to venture into something different.
“The goal at the time, was to do something creative, super organic, and one of a kind, without having financial woes.” Brown said. In collaborating with a good friend creative differences ensued and they parted ways. The cafe then became a partnership between Brown and his wife, Sonya.
The Meetery Eatery was a family business run by community-based folk who made it a priority to treat each of their customers like family, he said. The cafe offered free Internet usage so nearby WSU students or others stopping by could access e-mail while grabbing a quick bite or some of the cafe’s signature coffees and juices.
Framed black and white pictures of customers lined the walls. The tables and bulletin boards stayed full of community information and upcoming events sponsored by local talent and grassroots organizations.
The spot quickly became known as a safe and welcoming alcohol-free space for Detroit’s LGBT community and remained popular thru the Friday night Pic Nap Poetry series hosted by Detroit LGBT activists Kalimah Johnson and Johnny Jenkins.
Diversity in customers came in about as many flavors as the coffee’s that were served.
Longtime customer and poet Carmelita Reyes said, “It was like home to me, I could go in and know that I was not just supporting a business, I was supporting friends. I call it my ‘Cheers,’ everyone knows your name.”
Their doors closed because their lease was not renewed.
After the Health Department surmised that there would never be another restaurant on the site, Brown believed otherwise and purchased the space ‘as is’ and brought it up to code after being warned that it would be a nearly impossible feat.
The cafe is located on Woodward Avenue, inside of the Historic Park Shelton Apartment building, which is being redeveloped into condominiums. Brown says he had no knowledge of this when he purchased his cafe. Nor did he realize that the impending development would keep his entrance sitting behind orange barrels for three years.
After bringing the cafe site up to code and enjoying the fruits of a regular customer base, the Browns now must close shop.
Brown challenges people to make sure that businesses they patronize give back to the community. “Always question whether they will spend it again with other vendors in the community, or sponsor community events so that we see our money turn over in our community.”
Jerry and Sonya plan to take a break for a couple months to exhale and regroup. Brown said, “I plan to relax and watch a little football like a regular guy, and then hit the ground running.” He has already looked at three or four spots for a new venture. He hopes to secure something by December and then reopen by next summer.
Brown’s advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to own the land you build on.
“You don’t and can’t really control anything if you don’t control the land, it is almost like sharecropping.”
“However if we own the land it gets passed down and we’re handing down a legacy from generation to generation, transferring wealth.” Brown said.