On March 12, the longtime Five Points staple, Welton Street Cafe, will close at 2736 Welton Street. But members of the Dickerson family, who opened the soul food restaurant in 1986, hope to bring it back to a new location by summer.
The space they rented a block away at 2883 Welton Street will need major renovations, though, so the Dickersons launched a GoFundMe campaign on Jan. 7 to raise $250,000 for impending costs. So far, over $64,000 has been donated.
Welton Street hardly reached that point. Although it offered takeout during the 2020 COVID shutdowns, it wasn’t enough to stay ahead. Fathima Dickerson, one of the daughters of founders Flynn and Mona Dickerson, says they didn’t have time to apply to the city for funding. “We were in a whole different storm. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life. I always feel like I’m running,” she explains, adding that she was finishing her graduate studies at the same time; she recently obtained her master’s degree in social sciences.
Fathima, however, did interviews with anyone – the library, the podcasts, the local media – who would listen to the family’s story. Donations came in and sustained the restaurant through 2020. But last summer, HVAC issues led to the loss of staff and customers when temperatures reached over 100 degrees in the kitchen and dining room. , and the family had to ask the community again for help.
Now the Dickersons face a new challenge: the lease is in effect at their current location and a move is needed to keep the business afloat.
“It’s like leaving my house,” notes Fathima. The restaurant has been at the heart of Five Points since its opening. it operated in two different neighborhoods before moving to its current location, where it served the community for 22 years. The new space will allow the Dickersons to double the capacity, build a bigger kitchen and add a bar. The family also hopes to expand into non-profit work, but future plans depend on being able to open the new restaurant in a timely manner.
The total cost of the full renovation and development of the new location is $1 million, and the family still doesn’t know how they will raise the full amount. “We have exhausted our efforts to secure funding from government grants, government loans, business loans and business grants,” the GoFundMe page reads. “None of these efforts have been successful, so we are asking for our support from our community.”
The campaign’s aim is not just to raise funds, but to get the message across that small businesses – even those like Welton Street Cafe that serve as a community mainstay – are struggling. “Telling the story is as important as fundraising,” Fathima says.
Over the years, the whole family has worked in the restaurant. Although she denies any leadership role, Fathima is currently the restaurant’s spokesperson and assists her sister Chereka with social media and fundraising efforts, posting regular updates to the restaurant’s Instagram and Facebook pages. Welton Street. She is well known to customers as the face behind the cash register and the voice on the phone, although she wears all the restaurant’s hats. “Titles mean nothing when you do everything,” she notes.
There is already a lot of positive energy behind the new space. Funds and words of encouragement poured in from the community near and far, according to Fathima, who says she received cards in the mail and calls from people confined to the house and out of state – and even one from a former client who is currently in a correctional facility but wanted the family to know he supports them.
Black-owned architectural firm Desibl is working on plans for the new location, and the Dickersons have hired a firm to help rename the restaurant. They also plan to hold a few fundraising events over the next few months, including a brunch on January 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. “My job is to stay encouraged,” Fathima says. “We have a space that we have to build, and it’s going to take a long time.”
Fathima, who is now 34, remembers a quieter Welton Street with little foot traffic when she was young. Back then, one person could run the whole restaurant. On the busiest days now, ten people are needed to run the place, and the family expects to double the staff in the new location.
During the months of brick-and-mortar closure, Welton Street Cafe hopes to keep its current staff employed through catering concerts and pop-ups, and the Dickersons are considering police station kitchens they can use temporarily.
“I feel good about the move,” says employee Mamie Henry. “It’s going to be more exciting, more business, a lot more people and a lot more faces. We’re just a bigger family.