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Popular Denver restaurant fights to stay open

"We have to really as a community get to the core of what goes on, especially in historically Black neighborhoods, about why we’re losing the places we love."

DENVER — It feels like it's one obstacle after another for the owners at Welton Street Cafe in Five Points. Co-owner Fathima Dickerson said while the restaurant has had to navigate countless changes over the past year, support from their customers never changed.

"We have survived a global pandemic, on the strength of our customers and nothing else," she said. "Our people in the city, really kept this place here." 

A week before nationwide COVID-19 shutdowns, the Five Points restaurant was packed with customers and supporters to watch the premiere of their episode on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives.

"Ten days later, everything shuts down, so we never really got to feel what the impact of that show could have done for us," Dickerson said.

Their dining room never reopened after shutting down in March of 2020. They are currently operating take-out only with limited business hours. In early May, costly maintenance issues nearly closed their doors.

"May 1, we had to close our business on a Saturday at 4:15 p.m. We had to stop taking orders because it got up to 104 degrees in our kitchen," Dickerson said.

She said employees would often have to place ice packs on their chests to keep them cool. Their HVAC system has since been fixed, and Dickerson said they hope it can keep up with the rising temperatures, noting they've had problems with it before.

On top of struggles brought on by maintenance issues and the pandemic, Dickerson said gentrification in the neighborhood also raises some questions for investors coming into the community.

"They need to know to not forget about the people that have been here," she said. "Anybody investing in our communities, take light to that. We are still here, we need to know if what you’re doing, if you’re building up, on, or around us, if it’s still gonna put us in a position where we can thrive, or if it’s gonna put us in a position of removal." 

Now, Dickerson hopes to amplify a bigger conversation about the need for more Black-owned businesses and property. 

"This is a deeper issue, we have to really, as a community, get to the core of what goes on, especially in historically Black neighborhoods, about why we’re losing the places we love, and we will lose places like Welton Street Café because we don’t own nothing."

She spends time researching the process of becoming a property owner, while addressing inequities in communities of color, as she works through her master's degree thesis. 

"The people who have access to nothing and no one: 'where do they start? How do they start?' These are the conversations we need to start having in our communities, in our historic business districts."

After the many storms the restaurant has weathered, Dickerson said the fight to stay open is far from over. 

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