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On a late Tuesday afternoon this month, Welton Street Cafe in Five Points bustles with activity. Co-owner Fathima Dickerson answers calls for takeout orders while simultaneously greeting a steady stream of customers arriving to eat inside the dining room, which recently reopened in late July. In between the activity, she intently studies a book for her master’s thesis program.
Dickerson’s family has served Southern and Caribbean fare in Five Points since 1986, when her mother, Mona, founded the cafe at 2752 Welton Street (the restaurant moved to its current location in 1999). When pandemic-induced restrictions forced dining rooms to close across Colorado in 2020, the beloved institution battled many obstacles. Those included the failure to secure Paycheck Protection Program loans or other government funding, pivoting to a takeout-only model, and managing the needs of the community—all in addition to the ongoing challenges it faces, from increasing property values and rent in Five Points to the diminishing presence of Black businesses in the area due to gentrification.
“The truth is, we didn’t get any pandemic relief,” says Dickerson, who co-owns the restaurant with her parents and two siblings, and is also pursuing a master’s degree in social sciences and humanities at University of Colorado Denver. “We survived a global pandemic on the strength of our customers.”
The pandemic’s financial toll on restaurants also exacerbated long-time issues Welton Street Cafe had with the building it leases from a landlord. A broken elevator and HVAC system—both requiring expensive repairs that the restaurant couldn’t afford—were among the pain points. Dickerson shared the business’ struggles, which almost forced it to close, with a reporter at Denver7 in May, spawning a crowd-funding campaign that raised $41,561 for Welton Street Cafe.
“For the Black community, our business closing would have been a complete death,” says Dickerson. “We are here because it’s important to be in a place where you’re serving people who look like you. That identity factor is critical, especially because I grew up in Five Points and have seen so much of the neighborhood change that it does get personal.”
Since the Denver7 story debuted, Dickerson says the building’s air conditioning and elevator have been fixed—developments that allowed Welton Street Cafe to reopen its dining room, the latest change for the staff to adapt to. “It’s been a year and a half since we’ve been open [for dine-in], so we’ve had to retrain our bodies to do all of this walking back and forth,” she says. “Last week, my body was hurting.”
Despite all of the aches, Dickerson is grateful for the support of community members, those whom Welton Street Cafe is determined to keep its services accessible to. That’s why it only allows takeout orders to be placed via phone or in person, versus online. “Online ordering is for people of a privileged status,” she says. “That eliminates our community. I can’t go to online-ordering only because I have people who pay me in all quarters.”
At this time, the cafe also doesn’t plan to reinstate a mask requirement or ask diners to show proof of vaccination, Dickerson says, in fear that those restrictions would alienate loyal customers. “It’s one of those things when you have to know what community you’re serving,” she says. “ You have to look at the history of Black people and why we might not trust the vaccine. There’s a lot of people who won’t get it, and there’s a lot of people who are pushing to get it. I would push for supporting yourself the best way you can for you.”
With some customers still not comfortable dining inside, Dickerson says takeout is still a big portion of the restaurant’s business, even though it was tough to manage at first. “Takeout orders are hard,” says Dickerson. “I bought every color marker. I had highlighters. I had sticky tabs. We had chalk. I had a whistle. We put up signs saying where to place and pick up orders. But still we had people trying to claim other people’s food. It was trial and error, and we made it—but it was not easy.”
Dickerson hopes to use her experiences and the knowledge she’s gained in her master’s program to build the restaurant’s brand, create some sort of resource hub for the community, and raise awareness about the importance of Black ownership—the lack of which threatens Black-owned business in Five Points and beyond.
“When you see on the news that Welton Street Cafe may close because Welton Street Cafe doesn’t own the building, that’s a conversation of ownership going on,” she says. “When you think of Five Points, it was where Black people lived, where Black people do business, and then you see everything removed. This situation has really encouraged me to say, ‘Hey, what are some ways we can help connect our people to the resources and services that will help leverage their families?’”
While Dickerson can’t share specific details about what’s next for Welton Street Cafe quite yet, one thing is for certain: The Five Points institution will do whatever it takes to continue feeding the community. “There are a lot of things that are possibly on the horizon—one being that we’re gonna be here.” she says. “We just want to make sure we’re here to serve.”
What to Order at Welton Street Cafe
One of the easiest—and most delicious—ways to support the restaurant is by stopping in for a meal or takeout. Here are our favorite dishes.
Since her family has roots in the West Indies, Dickerson always recommends ordering the Caribbean-style pates (pronounced pat-tays), which are pastries stuffed with the likes of beef and cheese, sautéed shrimp, crab meat, and cabbage, or chicken and broccoli. The fluffy hand pies are wrapped in handmade dough and fried in a special cast-iron pot, making for a hearty lunch or dinner.
Welton Street Cafe offers several variations of chicken, and you can go wrong with any of them. We like the wings tossed in the restaurant’s signature honey hot sauce and the classic juicy fried chicken—but if you’re craving something spicy, try the jerk chicken, boneless thighs coated in two different fiery spice rubs.
This rich, stew-like dish comprised of slow-braised oxtails, starchy potatoes, and other mixed vegetables, is a weekly special that sells out quickly, Dickerson says. So if it’s available, be sure to take advantage.
All the Sides
The restaurant offers 15 sides, comforting home-cooked sustenance that can be time-consuming to produce, Dickerson says. Our go-tos include collard greens, hush puppies, and beans and rice.
2736 Welton St., Ste 107