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A barista holds a beverage.

How two couples are helping to build community in a coffee shop in Dexter-Linwood

Eleos Coffee serves up brews while offering space for neighborhood events

On a street dotted with empty lots and few businesses, the last thing any Detroiter familiar with the Dexter-Linwood neighborhood would expect to see is a newly opened coffee shop. But Eleos (pronounced el-ee-OSS) Coffee at Dexter and Elmhurst is here, still holding steady after opening on this commercial corridor a year ago.

Married couples and managers Sean and Joni Adams and Jacob and Nicole Cumberford moved from Missouri to Detroit separately with the intention of opening a coffeehouse ministry. The twist: Neither couple knew the other before moving to Detroit, and neither knew they each had the same goal. After meeting at their church through coffee shop regular Mike Hanafee, the two couples decided to join forces. 

In a city that is predominantly black, new residents – particularly new white residents – often stand out when they aren’t in Downtown, Midtown, Corktown or Woodbridge. Both couples operating Eleos Coffee are white, and they are acutely aware of the racial dynamics in the city. When asked about the reactions from residents of Dexter-Linwood so far, Jacob Cumberford said, “We would prayer walk (in the neighborhood) and people would stop and ask us if we were lost, so it was quite comedic.” 

The coffeehouse is roomy, with bright white floors and walls decorated with upcycled coffee bean sacks, framed photos, and a large outline of the world map with Detroit, Kansas City, Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sumatra stenciled in. All the chairs and booths have been newly reupholstered by Nicole Cumberford, and the colors make the room feel cozy and inviting. A bookcase with Christian and Black American literature sits in a corner. Gospel music plays softly from overhead speakers.

“Downtown, Midtown, uptown get all the resources – and that’s the New Detroiters. Longtime Detroiters get overlooked.”

The only other Eleos Coffee is in Kansas City, also in a commercially underserved neighborhood. The nonprofit Eleos organization situates themselves in areas where they can do the most good. Eleos relies on partial donations from churches, individuals and whole bean coffee sales to operate. For those people who are not coffee drinkers, Eleos also offers a wide array of green and herbal teas, and a deliciously spiced hot chocolate.

It wasn’t always this smooth-going, though. Leading up to the shop’s opening, Sean and Joni visited Detroit on Memorial Day weekend in 2016, their first visit to the city after feeling that God was leading them to Detroit. Sean confessed that based off what he saw in previous media portrayals and in the news, he was “fearful of this city.” Now, after having lived here, he says that there are “things that I’ve been told or heard on the media, and it hasn’t been my experience.”

In fact, Adams shared that Detroit is the only place where he’s felt the most at home. “(I’ve) lived in Tennessee and Missouri, and I’ve never been invited to a neighbor's birthday party,” adding that on a Saturday in May, the two couples were invited to a neighbor's home in the neighborhood for a local birthday celebration.

The coffeehouse is attracting regular customers such as Mike Hanafee, 48, a resident of the neighborhood who connected the couples and has been coming since they opened last October. He shared some of the local sentiment that “Downtown, Midtown, uptown get all the resources – and that’s the New Detroiters. Longtime Detroiters get overlooked" -- though in recent months, a search for new development has gone under way in Russell Woods and the adjoining Dexter Avenue corridor.

The couples’ main vision is to sow hope for the community, businesses and change. To do this, Eleos offers daily Bible study, free computer classes, resume building, tutoring and a monthly “Coffee With a Cop.” Eleos even started an annual community carnival – which had a bouncy house and a dunk tank – which had about 300 people attend last year. 

But if nothing else, the Adamses and the Cumberfords invite you to visit their coffeehouse for a good reason: “We have free Wi-Fi. Come hang out with us.”

 

For more information on Eleos Coffee, located at 12041 Dexter Ave., check out their website