Serving vegan and vegetarian fare, Tricklebee Cafe (4424 W.
North Ave.) is a pay-what-you-can restaurant located in the historic Uptown
Crossing District of the Sherman Park neighborhood on Milwaukee’s West Side. A
ministry of the Moravian Church, the café was founded by Rev. Christie
Melby-Gibbons and husband, David Melby-Gibbons, with the mission of providing
healthy meals and spiritual nourishment to an area in need.
“I served the church in L.A. for six years, and one of the
biggest things we did was a meal ministry where we rescued food from grocery
stores and we’d make these big meals,” explains Christie Melby-Gibbons. “We
served neighbors who were homeless, who were drug addicted. It was for anyone
who wanted to come and eat. We decided that we wanted to come back to the
Midwest and keep the momentum of that going. So, I said, how about a café where
people pay-what-they-can to eat and the focus is nourishing spirits?”
Settling in Milwaukee in 2015, the couple used demographics
to determine where their presence would have the greatest impact, eventually
selecting Sherman Park as its location. One of the poorest areas in Milwaukee,
Sherman Park lacks grocery stores and restaurants providing healthy, affordable
Initially, members of the community weren’t sure what to
expect, but the ministry was ultimately embraced by the neighborhood. “There
are people who have lived here their entire lives who are vegan, and they’re
loving it here, and they’re discovering new foods that they’ve never heard of
before. Many of our neighbors are excited to learn that there is delicious,
healthy food here,” says Melby-Gibbons.
Open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (with
extra hours from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday), Tricklebee Café’s modest menu changes
daily, but visitors can expect items like honeydew banana ginger smoothies,
blueberry goat cheese salad with fresh greens, quesadillas with sautéed onions
and greens peppers and vegan brownies.
True to its promise, some patrons pay and some do not, but
no one is turned away. There is, however, a suggested payment range for meals,
which factors in the cost of utilities, rent, paying a living wage to their
employees, the offset of donations and the purchase of local, organic food. The
current suggested payment range is $5.70 to $6.50 per meal.
“Nobody knows who’s paying and who’s not, so there is this
equalizing that happens,” says Melby-Gibbons. “People come in and there might
not be enough room for them to sit at their own table, so they have to join
another table, and they end up talking and sometimes exchanging information.
Boundaries come down that were maybe there before like ethnicity or economic
status, and it kind of disappears when they walk through the door. And to
foster kindness and compassion on a really small scale is a joy.”