For 15 years, a former bank building sat empty on North Teutonia Street in the heart of Milwaukee. Ten years ago, Bradley Thurman and a couple of investors talked of revitalizing the space with a coffee house that would provide libations and meeting space. In 2006, the dream became fruition when Coffee Makes You Black, 2803 N. Teutonia Ave., opened its doors.
The two-story space includes a large cafe on the ground floor, replete with massive plants, framed posters of Jazz greats and lots of natural light courtesy of large windows. The second level houses multiple offices, including the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation and The Village of Hope, Inc.
The offices look down on the cafe from the open second story of the old bank building, complete with original bank vault. Thurman had to pay a locksmith to "crack" the safe, which now holds napkins and other supplies.
Coffee Makes You Black serves the gamut of caffeine options -- made with Milwaukee’s Alterra coffee -- along with an assortment of teas and on-site-baked pastries. Currently, the construction of a kitchen is underway and in a few weeks, the coffee shop will offer a Friday night fish fry, Sunday night soul food dinners and weekend brunch.
The large, airy space features a dozen tables, providing a comfortable, ample meeting place for a variety of local groups and organizations.
"It’s a place to network," says Thurman. "A place to share and spread information."
A row of computers with internet access, sofas, and a ceiling-mounted projector for events round out the space.
Coffee Makes You Black is anchored in the midst of The Teutonia Avenue Togetherness Redevelopment Project, a mixed-use initiative involving local businesses and community organizations that will be developed in two phases over the next few years. The goal of the project it to build a major, mixed-use building on the corners and attract more business to the area in general.
Change is slower to be realized in some areas of the city. The promise that Coffee Makes You Black held out to Thurman and its investors for the neighborhood has been challenged by the economic downturn. The current redevelopment project might reinvigorate efforts by Thurman and like-minded community members.
Thurman, a retired Milwaukee firefighter who bought a house in the central city with his wife and three sons -- now grown -- to "get some movement around here," admits his passion for change is less than it once was.
"Truthfully," he says, smiling, "I’d rather be fishing in Northern Wisconsin."
Coffee Makes You Black also welcomes wedding parties, birthday parties and other special events. Jazz bands and poetry readings are already occasional offerings. Once the new kitchen opens, Thurman hopes to hire local bands to provide regular live music during dinners.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.