Keon Lewis and Monique Messer are betting on Overtown's renaissance as a thriving neighborhood rich in history. The couple plans to open Groovin' Bean — a combination coffeehouse, wine bar, and music venue — this fall at 801 NW Third Ave.
Partners in business and in life, Lewis and Messer, who own SoBe Cakes, a bakery that turns out cakes for businesses and restaurants, decided to open a coffeehouse in Overtown after noticing there was a need for one in the community. Lewis says Overtown is poised for a resurgence, much like now-thriving Wynwood and the MiMo District. "We saw where the neighborhood is going, and we wanted to get in on that. We wanted to offer the black community great coffee. I took a survey of the neighborhood and, overwhelmingly, people wanted it."
Lewis says coffeehouses often turn into social hubs, and that's what he's counting on with Groovin' Bean. "You walk into a Starbucks or any coffee café and there's a sense of community. That's what we want to create in the Overtown area. We want to make a place where everyone is welcome."
Groovin' Bean will serve coffee that's roasted in-house, along with other beans from various regions of the world. In addition, the café will offer a full line of coffee drinks, baked goods from the couple's SoBe Cakes, specialty beignets, and a tapas menu. Wine and craft beer will be served, and free Wi-Fi will be offered. The shop will feature cozy lounge areas and a small stage for live music and spoken-word performances. The entertainment is a nod to the beatnik coffee culture of the '60s and Overtown's past, when megastars such as Count Basie, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald performed at neighborhood venues.
The historic Stirrup Building, owned by Mt. Zion Baptist Church and future home of the coffee bar, also has a story to tell. The renovated orange-and-yellow structure was originally built in 1926 by E.W.F. Stirrup. The Bahamian native came to Florida as a laborer and, with the belief that landowners make better citizens, constructed more than 100 homes for African-Americans.
The building, restored by the church's Mt. Zion Development in 2014, was most recently used as a pop-up gallery during Art Basel. Artists' names and titles of their works still line the walls of the soon-to-be Groovin' Bean space. Messer says she and Lewis were attracted to the location for its many windows that capture the afternoon sun and its proximity to I-95 and downtown Miami. Though in a growth phase, Overtown still has a reputation for being unsafe. Lewis is sure things are about to change for the better. "Overtown is like Wynwood was before Panther Coffee got there. You can see it turning into that vibe."
Messer agrees. "If anyone is keeping up with the news, they'll see there's a lot of development in the area. We want to bring back the history and the culture, but we want to reach out to downtown and Wynwood. We want people to understand that this is a place where everyone is welcome. Right now, there's a big music festival being planned for this summer. The community is changing, growing. It's still historic, but it's progressing. Hopefully, we'll be the cornerstone for that."
Lewis, Messer, and other pioneers in Overtown's resurgence are being rewarded with help from the neighborhood's vibrant Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), chaired by City of Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon. The CRA helps small businesses investing in Overtown by providing affordable rents and increased police presence. Still, working capital is needed.
Lewis and Messer have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000. The two made their pitch video on an iPhone, with Messer editing the footage on a home computer. They see the GoFundMe page as an additional way of getting the community involved in their project. "People should be proud of this community and where it's going," Messer says. "This community has been through a lot of trauma. There were tons of black businesses, people were doing well; then I-95 bisected the area, and many people had to move. We have an opportunity to build up this community to where it's supposed to be. This is a place where in the morning, you can come get your coffee and beignets, then stop in after work for a glass of wine."
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Lewis adds that he and Messer are just living the American dream like everyone else. "We started the GoFundMe campaign so people can feel like they're part of something that's happening, that's going to be great in the community. When we open, you can get a coffee and listen to one of our live performances or enjoy our cocktails and conversation night. We want people to feel like they're at home and at ease.
"A lot of people have ideas. We took it upon ourselves. We don't have a million dollars from investors. We're everyday working people who are trying to build a business that's much needed for this community. When you have the passion for something, you just do it. That's why this is so important to us."
Groovin' Bean is scheduled to open this fall. Visit their GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/groovinbean.