See how Ensley is prime for a resurgence with a coffee shop and new space aptly named “Believe”

Left to right, Jeanisha Whetstone, Troy Whetstone of Modern House Coffee and Brian K. Rice at the downtown Ensley pop-up event on July 20, 2019. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Birmingham’s Ensley Historic Business District is prime for a resurgence.

This past Saturday, The Modern House Coffee Shop hosted a pop-up shop event at  602 19th Street in downtown Ensley.  Officially opening this Fall, the community-focused coffee house is the brainchild of founder Troy Whetstone.

“The coffee shop isn’t just about lattes and mochas. The shop will hire people experiencing homelessness to work full-time for a liveable wage,” according to Whetstone in a Rev Birmingham news release.

Community of Second Chances

“I think Ensley is the perfect community,” Whetstone said. “I think that’s why God led me this way because it’s a community of second chances. We’re looking to give a second chance to people and do that through coffee.”

A nonprofit organization, The Modern House Coffee Shop is partnering with SEEDS in Birmingham’s Lakeshore District to supply high quality coffee. They are also enlisting  local caterers to supply bakery and other food items.


“The concept of The Modern House is to basically bring coffee and community together,” added Jeanisha Whetstone, Troy’s wife, in an interview with Bham Now during the pop-up shop event.

 

Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

In the coming months, while the future space for The Modern House Coffee is being renovated, the Whetstones expect to hold additional pop-up events to build momentum and prepare for their Fall opening.  Bookmark their website-coffeeandcommunity.com– and like their Facebook  page to learn about future events and to keep up with their progress.

Big Plans for Ensley’s 19th Street

Since The Modern House Coffee  is currently under construction, Saturday’s pop-up event was held at the adjacent unit in the building, a conference space aptly called “Believe.”

Before the event, we caught up with Brian K. Rice, the developer of the building that will house The Modern House Coffee and the Believe conference space. Rice, who is also developing  7 additional buildings on Ensley’s 19th Street told us how the conference space got it’s name.


“The reason I named it Believe is because it is the one thing you need in you when everything is going against you,” said Rice.

Transforming 19th Street

Photograph of  Ensley, 600 and 19th in the mid 1900s. Present location of The Modern House and Believe. Photo of the photograph by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Along with the coffeehouse and the conference space, Rice described how he intends to transform 19th Street, developing co-working office space, lofts, and an art gallery. He is also working on locating a tech incubator and recruiting restaurants.

Planting Deep Roots

Rice is seeking businesses and residents that are willing to plant deep roots in the community. He told Bham Now:

“In the Believe space, 25% of all conference rentals will go to a non-profits in Ensley. We believe we must keep in mind the community. We can’t take money out of the community. We have to figure out how to put money back.”

Giving Back By Mentoring

Rice also wants to encourage the businesses he recruits to incorporate mentoring and giving back to the local community.


“Anyone else I recruit to go in the space (other developments), it doesn’t matter whether they are in engineering, an architect or marketing person; to me I feel like they have to mentor once or twice a month, some type a way, adults or kids, because our community needs to see successful people. I’m challenging everybody that leases from me to do something good in this community.  It needs it.”

Making Progress

Martez and Genesis Nalls with their son Titus at The Modern House Coffee pop-up. Photo by Pat Byington

Over the next few months and in 2020, we look forward to seeing  these transformative changes in the Ensley Historic Business District. Check out Brian K. Rice’s vision on his website – HERE.

Meanwhile, we look forward to some excellent coffee, pastries and conversations at The Modern House Coffee Shop in the heart of Ensley in the Fall.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.