When walking into Tricklebee Café, light fills the space and there is an energy that is inviting and calming. Patrons are engaging in conversations, children are running around, acoustic music is humming through the speakers and a smell wafts from the kitchen that makes you want to stay forever. This is the atmosphere Christie Melby-Gibbons and her family wanted to create when opening a café in a neighborhood that has been neglected. “It’s a safe spot and people can feel that when they come in the door,” says Melby-Gibbons. Tricklebee has become a cornerstone in the community, providing both healthy food and a support system.
The goal when opening the non-profit café in 2016 was to make healthy food accessible to an underserved community. New to Milwaukee in 2015, Christie Melby-Gibbons and her family searched a little differently than most would for a new place to live. “We looked for places where poverty is very common,” says Melby-Gibbons. So, they opened the café on North Avenue and 45th Street. Obesity and diabetes are also common in the area, which Melby-Gibbons believes has a lot to do with diet and few sources of healthy food. According to the Wisconsin Health Atlas created by UW-Madison's School of Medicine and Public Health, the 53210 zip code has a 49% obesity prevalence, meaning almost half of adults in the area are obese.
When the family first moved to the area, it was quickly apparent that there were no healthy or fresh food options. In fact, the only fresh produce Melby-Gibbons could find nearby was rotten vegetables in grocery stores. Wanting to help people in the neighborhood combat those health issues, the family made sure anyone could eat their vegan and organic food by allowing people to pay what they want. “We want to make sure that people have access to the foods that are available in other parts of the city.” says Melby-Gibbons. “In Shorewood and East Milwaukee, there are lots of healthy places to eat, but around here there’s nothing.”
Over the last two-and-a-half years, Melby-Gibbons has seen changes in the health, diet and overall attitudes of her regulars. Before Tricklebee opened, many of her customers only ate processed foods, but the café opened their eyes to new options for eating. All of the restaurant's food comes from its garden plot next to the building or from donations. The café-goers see the ingredients for their meals pulled from the soil and brought to the kitchen—that creates a trust that is hard to come by. Melby-Gibbons wants her customers to see how easy it is to eat healthy and to make those choices part of their normal routines.
To Melby-Gibbons, food is more than something to eat; it is an opportunity. She has used food to lift spirits, strengthen a community and show her neighborhood that someone cares for their well-being. "This is my real calling,” she says. “To get food out of the waste stream and into people’s bellies, especially in places where people can’t afford it... So, we did it and it’s working.”
Learn more at tricklebeecafe.org