Take a peek inside the new Welton Street Cafe

It’s still a construction zone, but it’s coming along.
7 min. read
Welton Street Cafe’s new location at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Fathima Dickerson was crushed when she announced her family's Welton Street Cafe would leave its 22-year home in the heart of Five Points. She described the moment as a "death" back in 2021, and she told us recently that it took the better part of a year to drive past the old restaurant without getting choked up.

She and her family spent a year raising money to reopen elsewhere. Now that their new space at 29th and Welton is on its way to completion, her feelings about the move have softened.

"It's been a beautiful storm," she said. "One of the things that I'm working on, in terms of my healing, is changing how I tell the story."

She now thinks of that story as one of improvement and rebirth. Yes, the closure was a "trauma," but it's also been an opportunity for growth. The Dickersons once contended with electrical wiring that couldn't handle a point-of-sale system, tight spaces where they didn't quite fit and air conditioning that was broken for months. This move has given them a chance to create something that's just right for their loyal customer base.

"Being a part of our buildout has helped me really figure out why Welton Street Cafe did not work for us. Like the old location, the infrastructure itself did not support our business," Dickerson told us. "How in the world did we really push out orders in that kitchen? It was just like ridiculously small for the menu."

Welton Street Cafe owner Fathima Dickerson walks through her new location at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The new space is big, bright and under construction.

When Dickerson walks into her budding restaurant, she can see the future hiding amid the exposed beams. A skylight pours sunshine over the spot where her new bar is being built. They're planning to offer Caribbean-inspired cocktails, an homage to their roots in St. Thomas.

The dining floor will soon be filled with tables - though no booths, to Dickerson's dismay, since they're out of fashion. In total, the 3,000-square-foot space will double their capacity, seating at least 80 people inside and a dozen more on a new patio. The kitchen will be big and accessible, with fewer narrow corners to navigate with hot meals. People grabbing to-go orders will have room to hang out while they wait; in the old restaurant, they needed to hug a wall lest they trip up servers hustling through the tiny gap between the register and the dining room.

Welton Street Cafe's new location at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Dickerson said all this promise and vision delights her to no end. Every day, she told us, she wakes up eager to see it finished. Each day she has to wait is another day lost with her "extended family," the customers who still text, leave messages and poke their heads in asking when they'll finally open.

"We're writing a fairytale," she laughed. "I will say that we're writing a fairytale. Fairy tales have love stories. This is a love story. You know, Welton Street Cafe is about love. And I can't wait."

They're hoping for an opening in late August or September. In the meantime, Dickerson is meditating on visions of what the shell of a space will become.

"Welton Street Cafe is the third space, you know? It's not home, it's not work, it's not school. It's the space where you can be yourself. And for me, Welton Street Cafe has allowed me to be me," she said. "It's awesome, to grow up with people and to be able to serve families. It's a beautiful thing."

A skylight over Welton Street Cafe's new bar, inside their new location at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The cafe's reopening is a harbinger of change for their little corner.

Even though it's just a few blocks from her old location, Dickerson joked that she was worried to be so far away from the neighborhood's heart.

"Initially, when we signed our lease over here, we were a little like, 'Nobody comes to 28th!'" she said.

But she and her dad, Flynn, were hanging out on the corner on a recent afternoon as people streamed by to greet them and ask about their progress inside.

"We sitting on this corner and people was just coming up," she told us. "I said, 'This corner is lit!'"

Though there are a number of vacant properties surrounding her, change is on its way. Apartments are slated to replace a parking lot across 29th Street. There's a vacant lot on the cafe's other side where row homes are planned. Soon enough, Dickerson said, there will be more customers living all around her, and she's confident that their grand opening will create a new center of gravity on Welton Street.

2821 Welton Street is the site of potential mixed-use development. June 15, 2022.
Kyle Harris / Denverite

Jeff Campbell, an artist and longtime figure in the Five Points community, said it does feel like the corridor's north end is gaining new life, clawing its way back to what it was before a downturn in the 90s and early 2000s.

"I think that Welton Street is beginning to fill out, to be that little marketplace that they've been striving to turn it into for so long," he said. "I would love to see Welton Street bubbling with those commercial properties, vibrant and viable again."

Haroun Cowans, chair of the Five Points Business Improvement District, said Welton Street Cafe's reopening will play a role in that broader growth, especially as they attract customers during lunchtime. The corridor suffers from "a chasm of the day," he told us, not enough traffic during business hours. Business closures in the area have added to that chasm, and it doesn't help that people are still largely working from home.

The new housing around 29th Street will help, he said. In the meantime, he said he's speaking loudly about bringing offices and workers back to the area. It's important beyond hard economics he added: Ensuring businesses' survival is a way to preserve the neighborhood's legacy.

"We talk about the music a lot, the history of the music, the jazz and all of that. But Five Points was, and is, an entrepreneurial hub, more than anything," he said. "That's what the historical context was. More than music, it was Black business."

A vision board for Welton Street Cafe's new location, pinned to the wall of their under-construction space at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Campbell said Welton Street will probably never return to the bastion of Black life that it once was. Regardless of who moves into the new apartments and row homes on the corridor's north end, they'll likely help ensure that Black business, at least, continues to thrive there.

"That is definitely the hope, that we will continue," he said.

While the corridor has endured closures, there are new enterprises popping up. Taco Uprising, a new spot next to Welton Street Cafe's budding location, is "starting to pick up steam," Campbell said. And last month, NBA "legend" Kevin Johnson announced he's opening a branch of his Soul Kitchen chain a few blocks south of Welton Street Cafe's old location.

Welton Street Cafe owner Fathima Dickerson walks through her new location at 29th and Welton Streets. July 22, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Dickerson said she can see her part in all of this. What she's rebuilding, in her eyes, is more than a place to dine.

"In another year from now, I anticipate Welton Street Cafe just being the spot for all things to celebrate life," she said. "This journey has been a lot of life. It has been a lot of death. So things that do not serve us anymore have died, and things that are gonna continue to make us great are growing. And I'm excited for that."

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