Kalin J. Reed
Stepping into the cozy Tricklebee Café, I immediately felt welcome. An ordained pastor of the Moravian Church of North America, Reverend Christie Melby-Gibbons, stands at the ordering counter that appears to be her pulpit. Rev. Melby-Gibbons owns the Café and spreads “The Good Word” by feeding the people. The Café's menu changes every day because each meal is made fresh from the produce gathered from local gardens. Rev. Melby-Gibbons partners with local gardeners in order to bring nutritious and organic food to the people of Sherman Park.
The café space has been carefully restored by the owners. The patterned tiled floor emerged from beneath layers of old linoleum. The counter is an old church pulpit; menu items are advertised on a rescued hymnal board. Old church pews are reused as seats and church fixtures saved from the Moravian church in Kellner furnish the interiors. Wood taken from various Milwaukee buildings cover part of an interior wall.
The name “Tricklebee” came from a phrase her mother used. Rev. Melby-Gibbons remembered, “She would say ‘the trick will be if we can get enough money.’ I always heard it as ‘tricklebee’.” She has used this play on words to define her work. John Schmid of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote that Rev. Melby-Gibbons “knew they wanted to open a donation-based cafe but also knew that ‘the trick will be’ to sustain it in a high-poverty, boarded-up business district. ‘The trick will be’ to offer healthy meals in an urban ‘food desert’ — an area without grocers…” On Thursday nights they offer a soup and bread meal called Agape, representing the Christian concept of love. Rev. Melby-Gibbons plays Gregorian choral music. During lunch time, we observed an impromptu concert by few local children led by Christie’s husband, David.
Carol Deptolla of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, “Tricklebee is a pay-what-you-can cafe. Some customers pay less than the estimated $5.69 to $6.46 cost of a meal; others pay it forward, putting enough in the jar to cover their meals and part or all of a stranger's.” This unique business model works perfectly, helped by occasional food donations from local gardens, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, and individual gardeners. The food is generally vegetarian and vegan made from local organic supplies.
The café logo is a picture of a bee, reminding us of the ecological importance of native flora and fauna in producing sustainable communities. Rev. Christie Melby-Gibbons and her husband David are transplants from Iowa. They grew up “in the woods […] in an Amish river valley” with her parents. The family did not use electricity until later in her life. So Christie became attuned to nature. Now, she teaches that sense of caring for nature to her daughter, husband and the community in the Sherman Park area.
Rev. Melby-Gibbons has been ordained in the Moravian Church for eight years. Her first church was located in Los Angeles where she spent six years. She notes that “… it never really felt like home to us on the west coast, so we wanted to come back and do something in an urban context in the Midwest.” Since moving to the Sherman Park area, she has been a ray of hope for the community. She teaches the neighborhood about healthy eating and hires local students of Sherman Park to cook and serve in the café.