A Baltimore café sustains a neighborhood and builds bridges in the community.
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Coffee Community
Credit: Nathan Perkel

On weekend mornings, Dovecote Café in Baltimore’s predominantly black Reservoir Hill neighborhood thrums with activity. The place is always packed with people, some tapping away on laptops, others catching up with friends over good coffee, lavender-spiked granola and smashed-banana bread. You’ll usually find a group spilling onto the terrace out front. Inside, where the walls are lined with art for sale as part of Dovecote’s Artists Shouldn’t Starve series, a few tables might be reserved for a workshop with Brown+Healthy, a nonprofit focused on wellness initiatives for people of color.

Smashed Banana Bread
Credit: John Kernick

Spend a little time at Dovecote and you’ll understand why “community first, café second” is its motto, mission and war cry. “Social spaces are what make a neighborhood,” says Aisha Pew, who opened this coffee shop cum de facto civic hub in 2016 with her mother, Gilda, and her partner, who goes by the single name Cole. “As black people, we’ve been taught that those things only exist in white neighborhoods, and once they open near our homes, we can’t afford to be there anymore.”

Pew has seen it happen—first in Brooklyn, where she grew up, and later in Oakland, California. But in Baltimore, a city that’s 63 percent black, she saw an opportunity to shift the paradigm. First things first: Dovecote is an exceptional café. Co-chefs Amanda Mack and La Payne devise bright salads and simple, satisfying sandwiches, while baker Danyelle Tobin turns out irresistible sweets, including a crowd-favorite peach upside-down cake. But if you didn’t look up from your plate every now and then, you’d be missing the point. Dovecote now hosts monthly takeover dinners, turning the kitchen over to black chefs; on Thursdays there’s a regular produce pop-up in partnership with Baltimore Free Farm. As Pew, who hopes to open a grocery store across the street, explains, “We want to build what a black community needs to thrive.”

Dovecote Café, 2501 Madison Avenue, Baltimore, MD, 443-961-8677

Try the recipe:

Smashed Banana Bread