by Hippo (a hippopotamus) with help from Al (a bird)
Tricklebee Café is a pay-what-you-can community café that offers healthy meals, food-service training, and spiritual nourishment. We are a ministry of the Moravian Church in America.
After completing her twenty hours of community service at Tricklebee Café, Lakeya, a 17-year-old girl from a single-parent home, kept coming back to help. Christie Melby-Gibbons, heart and soul of the cafe, hired her as custodian where she did a beautiful job for nine months. Lakeya graduated from high school and, inspired by her work at Tricklebee, started on a culinary arts degree in baking. One of her sisters took over as custodian and another began interning in the garden.
When I think of the Tricklebee Café, I picture Christie welcoming each of the neighborhood teens with a warm hug as they walk, or run boisterously, through the door. I hear the sound of children calling out,”Eli!” as one particular favorite arrives. I think of Christie’s husband, David, standing with her every step of the way – washing dishes after dinner, holding the tired baby, doing whatever needs doing. This is the Thursday evening meal, where I sit (Al under the furry hat on my head) alongside the humans at a table for a shared meal and fellowship – awkward for a hippopotamus, to say the least. My short legs are hidden beneath a large winter coat, but what about my teeth?
“Keep your mouth closed when you are chewing, Hippo,” said Al. “Keep your mouth closed.”
Heart racing, I notice that Christie is reading to us. It is a prayer of gratitude for the food we will be sharing.
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~ Chief Seattle
The table is inviting and homey, set with real plates, flatware, and cloth napkins, and everyone is friendly. There is a pitcher with water, and glasses – no straws, no plastic. And it is some comfort to feel Al under my hat, pecking occasionally at my head. My heart slows.
We all help ourselves to a delicious vegan, gluten-free buffet, starting with two steaming pots of soup, one a spicy garbanzo, coconut curry, and the other, a root vegetable, both rich and full of flavors. Recipes are created by the wonderful cook, Yatesha Price. Carrot tops, apple cores and peelings, odds and ends, and pieces of this and that – instead of being thrown out as waste, are used to add a complex flavor to the broths that is both unusual and satisfying.
The bell peppers are stuffed with a wonderfully chewy mix of quinoa, black-eyed peas, onions, green olives, and more. I stood up to go for a second helping, but Al piped up: “You’re already conspicuous enough without eating like a pig,” he said. I sat down.
A lady named Carrie asks for the recipe. Christie explains that there really are no recipes because it all depends on what comes out of the gardens and what is donated, but there is a card in front of each food offering which lists every ingredient. Carrie is given the card to take home.
For dessert, we have a simple muffin, moist and full of apple chunks. It is spiced with a pinch of cinnamon. Everything – delish! Christie never knows how many will show up, but there always seems to be enough to go around.
Lively conversation, babies in laps, children underfoot, friends dropping in unexpectedly – Christie, her family, and friends have created kinfolk out of strangers.
The café has a large planter filled with herbs, designed and built by students of Milwaukee School of Engineering. MSOE has a program of Servant-Leadership, funded by the Pieper Family Foundation. Chaired by Doug Nelson, the program allows students to put their knowledge to use while they serve the community with integrity and humility.
Tricklebee volunteers, interns and employees also work four plots of a shared garden space right across the street, another opportunity to meet neighbors and connect with people of the community. Across the alley, apple and plum trees grow, providing fruit to the neighborhood. During the growing season from June through October, these gardens, as well as local farmers, backyard gardeners, and foragers, provide almost 100% of the food served at the café. Here are just a few of the locals who help supply their food:
- Located on top of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Beevangelists provide local, raw, organic honey.
- Seasonal vegetables are donated from friends at Morning Glory Farm, located in Colgate, WI and Three Sisters Community Farm near Campbellsport, WI.
- As the executive director of Alice’s Garden, Venice Williams cultivates over 70 different organic herbs! She makes delicious herbal tea infusions that are found only at this cafe.
- Tricklebee buys fresh seasonal vegetables from Wellspring Farm–a certified Organic Farm located in West Bend, WI.
In the spring, even morel mushrooms from Christie’s parents’ property in Iowa appear on the menus.
Zakiya Courtney, owner of Vegan Soul, is the featured chef for Friday lunches at Tricklebee. She is known for her peanut stew and biscuits, as well as vegan versions of traditional greens and other favorite comfort foods.
Although most of the food served at Tricklebee is fresh or minimally processed, you may see Beyond Meat products and vegan cheese, especially in winter months. Vegannaise is a staple, and refined peanut oil is used in the deep fryer once or twice a month. Most often though, everything is from scratch, cooked in Newman’s olive oil or baked with organic coconut oil by real people.
“Locally sourced foods and living light on the Earth just fit in to making community,” says Christie.
On Wednesdays, the cafe hosts a gathering of local artists. And Thursday morning is Ruth Shank’s “Close Knit Community Workshop” in fiber arts. The ministry also provides scholarships for kids to go to Mt. Morris Camp in Wautoma, WI each summer.
This wonderful place, The Tricklebee Cafe, is inspired by Christie’s Moravian faith. She says it’s a simple doctrine: “Be a good neighbor and in all things, love.”
Al and I highly recommend it.