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Posted on Mon, Feb 21, 2011 : 12:18 p.m.

Selma Cafe celebrates its 2nd anniversary

By Corinna Borden

Selma Cafe is a local-foods breakfast salon began in February 2009, founded and hosted by Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe, organized these past six months by Gottlieb, as McCabe has focused on the farming initiatives.

Borden - Anne's picture of Selma Cafe

Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe celebrate their second anniversary of hosting Selma Cafe in their home.

Photo Courtesy of Anne Savage

The first time my husband and I went to Selma Cafe, we arrived at 6:25 a.m. so he could be at work by 7:15. It was dark. It was winter. I could barely believe we were going to be welcomed into a stranger’s home at 6:30 in the morning for breakfast.

We entered the glowing entryway and stopped. “What do we do now?” I whispered. We could hear voices and smell bacon. A prodigious number of nametags and masking tape adorned the walls —Jim, Mary, Susan, Lynn, John, etc. “Those must be for the people who belong here.” I whisper again. Right when I was about to turn around and sprint back to our car in embarrassment and nerves, a greeter bounded around the corner and our introduction to Selma Cafe began.

As I wrote in September, hoop houses are being built with the money raised from the breakfast funds. I did not mention the amazing experience one has eating breakfast at the Friday morning Selma Cafe. There is a palpable energy of good cheer and community.

I watched Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe this past Friday clearing dishes, answering questions about the laying habits of their chickens, extolling the prowess of masseuse Ed Weymouth (offering complimentary massages to those waiting for a seat) to first time eaters to the cafe, sitting down with participants, laughing and smiling at the community centered around their kitchen. It is a remarkable gift they are giving to our community.

Because in contrast to my first trepidation as I viewed the entryway nametags, the legion of names on masking tape illustrate an important precept of Selma Cafe Jimeveryone belongs.

I asked Gottlieb if she would answer some questions for me about these past two years and where she thinks things are moving forward. Her voice is the best way to describe what has been happening in her home. Yet, before we hear from Gottlieb, I want to share this one anecdote.

Last week, I was able to join Karl and Cara Rosean of Real Time Farms at a presentation they gave for Food Tech Connect in New York City. The mavens of the tech food world were there to listen to them speak. One of the participants noticed that Selma Cafe is listed on Real Time Farms as one of their locally sourced restaurants. Then the entire room of 30 people began talking about what a fabulous and amazing institution Selma Cafe is — it was exhilarating and I felt very lucky to live in Ann Arbor.

Here is the interview with Lisa Gottlieb:

According to your blog archive, the first breakfast "cafe" took place on Feb. 27 to organize future breakfast "cafes." What gave you the idea in the first place?
The first breakfast was on Feb. 20, 2009, and it was a casual breakfast to celebrate Jeff's 50th birthday. It was such a high-energy party, and people were so enthusiastic, that afterward a small group of people met to discuss the viability of continuing the breakfasts each week. Jeff and I decided that as long as we had volunteers to help, we would continue to open our home, and create a manageable way to find chefs each week and source local food.

Borden - Silvio at Selma by Myra

Photo courtesy of Myra Klarman

How long did it take for a regular routine to be developed with sufficient volunteers?
We decided pretty quickly that we would do the breakfasts every week, as opposed to bi-weekly, or once a month — to avoid confusion. As we moved forward, and the workload became apparent, we needed more volunteers to take over some of the chores that got to be too much for us. For the first month or so, I was coming home after work to a pretty messy kitchen, and I was doing a lot of extra cleaning every Friday afternoon. And, the more the number of guests increased each week, the more need there was for extra servers, a steady dishwasher, people to clear plates and set tables and an expediter to make sure the food orders were going out to the right tables. We started out our first few weeks with 35 guests, then 50, then 75 and then 150. Our highest so far was 186 guests in December of 2010.
In December of 2009, we were really needing more volunteers than we had. One week our chef was making breakfast, and no servers showed up to volunteer. So, we had guests fill out their own meal tickets, and when we called their name, they'd come get their order. The dishes piled up, because the dishwasher had to leave, the tables weren't being cleared, and it was a good bit of chaos. It was pretty obvious to everyone that without volunteers, Selma Cafe was not going to happen. 

A core group of us sat down, and we sent out an email, and we basically said if we don't have enough volunteers by Wednesday of each week consistently signing up, we'll have to stop Selma Cafe. And that was all it took. Since then, over a year ago now, we haven't had any problem with a lack of volunteers.

Borden - Anne's picture of veggie tart

Did I mention the food? Here is a vegetable tart served with hoophouse greens and hashbrowns.

Photo courtesy of Anne Savage

At this point we have a volunteer base of more than 450 people, including volunteers for the breakfast, hoop house build volunteers, and volunteers who help out at Selma Cafe fundraiser events and other local food events where Selma Cafe is represented. And that isn't including the couple of dozen chefs we have who come make the food. These days we have specific volunteer roles that are filled in order to keep things running smoothly. [CB: Check out the Selma Cafe blog for volunteer spotlights.]

Since this is a University town, volunteers come and go, but we love having volunteers who commit to taking on a role consistently for a period of time, since it means we have less training to do, and it's easier to give really great customer service when people are encouraged to own their volunteer role.

These past two years, what elements of the "cafe" have been the most fun/exhilarating?
Nearly all of it is fun. If there wasn't fun and joy and enthusiasm and energy, we just wouldn't have the juice to keep it sustainable week in and week out. A couple of my favorite fun things lately have been the addition of live music from various artists and the massage therapists who come and give complementary massage samples to our guests and volunteers.
I love it when we are really busy, and there is this wonderful, happy energy in the house. There is the sound of people laughing and talking and connecting with each other. And the chefs are in a groove, and the food is coming out fast and hot and beautifully plated and delicious. And there's music, and the smell of waffles cooking, bacon frying, and fresh ground coffee. And folks are hugging each other, and babies are being passed to open arms, and kids are kissing their parents good-bye and heading up to Eberwhite to school. And then it's somebody's birthday, and I cut a little slice of bread pudding and put a birthday candle in it, and everybody stops for a moment and sings to that person, and it's just the sweetest, exhilarating feeling, all of that combined. And it happens pretty much that way each week.

Most people I speak to are in awe of your willingness to open your private home to strangers on a weekly basis. Has your relationship with your home changed these past two years (i.e. does it still feel like home)?
We've always had a lot of activity in our home, with people staying with us and coming and going. Jeff and I are pretty gregarious, and our kitchen and dining room are really set up to have lots of people cooking and eating together. Our rule is that no one goes upstairs —  the upstairs is our private space, and that works pretty well.
You know, we have the house to ourselves all week, except for Thursday evening and Friday morning. It still feels cozy and lovely to us. We are so lucky to have our own home, so why not share the abundance? Sometimes things get broken or put away in the wrong place, but those things are pretty minor when I look at the big picture of what Selma Cafe is accomplishing.

What is your vision for the next two years?
There are several big projects that we are working on. Jeff received a grant from the USDA to create an incubator farm program which is currently in the works just north of Ann Arbor, and we are planning a 20 Hoops in 20 Days event for this summer, which will include building 20 hoops starting June 15, finishing up on the 4th of July with a big party celebrating Independence Day by focusing attention on creating independence from big corporations controlling our food supply. We are funding those hoop builds with breakfast funds but also from our recently developed Farmer Fund, an investment fund managed by Ann Arbor's University Bank, where people can invest in our hoop house projects and earn a bit of interest while supporting our local farmers.

Borden - Anne's picture of duck poutine

Duck "Poutine" was last Friday's carnivore option.

Photo courtesy of Anne Savage

I've been working on a Selma Cafe cookbook and hope to have that available sometime in the future. As far as the weekly breakfasts go, the plan is to keep the food coming every week, while offering lots of events for folks to get involved with our area's local food adventure.

Anything you would like to add that I have not specially asked about?
I am very proud of our accomplishments, like the nearly dozen hoop houses we've built, and the two years of weekly breakfasts we've provided, but just as meaningful to me is the environment we have created of inclusion, appreciation, physical and emotional safety, and the value we place on finding a spot for everyone, regardless of their skill set, to take part in our activities. As a social worker and yoga teacher, my view is that it isn't enough to be productive if the work we are doing doesn't reflect in the positive experiences of people involved in what we do.

A good part of our mission is to build community, affiliation, and connection in our modern world, which tends to separate people into virtual, surface level connection. I want to focus on giving people opportunities to prepare and eat good food, to getting their hands dirty in the soil, planting and harvesting vegetables, learning to swing a hammer and work as a team with others, and have their over all experience be that they know the work they do has a positive, measurable influence on their daily lives.

Thank you Lisa Gottlieb and Jeff McCabe for what you do!

Thank you Anne Savage for the use of your beautiful photographs!

Corinna works with the Westside Farmers Market and writes about many things.



Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

So good to see a Corinna Borden piece, have missed her articles. Selma Cafe is a trip, delicious food, genuine, downhome atmosphere in someone's real life space, no frills, no fuss. Friendly people, beautiful chickens outside, and a great purpose behind it all. I loved it and look forward to returning.


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 5:44 a.m.

There is a contrarian here whose sole purpose is to apparently pour cold water on a warm, welcoming, and beloved enterprise. There's nothing wrong in raising questions and challenging prevailing thought. But when one has all his/her beefs (pun intended) and myths debunked repeatedly yet persistently raises them despite their lack of validity, it's either a sign of madness—as when someone keeps making the same mistake but expects a different outcome—or maliciousness—as in repeating a falsehood often enough hoping that mere repetition will transform fiction into fact. But, let's be charitable and note a preternatural disposition to being contrary merely for the sake of being contrary. One, the SELMA Café is not, repeat, not a commercial venture such as a restaurant, but a wholly non-profit project to raise money for worthy causes and has successfully leaped over all county and city hurdles and found to be absolutely kosher (i.e., legal—not the bacon or sausage served). I wonder if the accuser has ever gone to SELMA or been nearby on a Friday as his/her constant baseless complaints about "fouled-up" traffic and parking are so far from what I and most other partakers in the SELMA experience have witnessed and corroborate here. How many times do we have to confirm this before it sinks in? I will ignore off-topic remarks about the People's Food Co-op lest my posts also be purged as his/hers should be and seem to have been in many cases here. The only thing I will say on this is that it is utterly hypocritical to upbraid someone for "taking sides" when obviously the same accuser has taken sides, has an all-too-obvious ax to grind, and is undoubtedly not in the least troubled by those who took _his/her_ side! If you are going to criticize, please do so constructively, i.e., _add_ to this discussion, don't detract from it and replicate the same discredited arguments with a vain hope that the constant reverberation will finally resonate with someone other than yourself.


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 7:12 p.m.

not 'green'.


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

I hope so, Bedrog; give me a hint of what color carnation you'll be wearing. ;-)


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 4:31 p.m.

Excellent points in all respects contremilice....perhaps we will bump into one another at SELMA one of these days.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 6:27 p.m.

I have been going to SELMA Café nearly since its inception. A more pleasant, inviting, cheerful, colorful, and flavorsome—I might add—environment would be difficult to find. Donations are voluntary, but one feels good giving to the cause of sustaining local farming and expanding the growing season throughout the year with the construction of all the hoop houses. As Bedrog correctly pointed out, with the extent of open hours, the participants' arrival is always staggered; and many people traveling to SELMA on foot or by bicycle; I have never encountered anything even vaguely resembling a traffic jam. This is _not_ Washtenaw on Friday at 5 PM! And indeed parking is plentiful and easy to find. I don't eat meat, but never feel deprived as there are always veggie alternatives and often vegan ones as well. This way, SELMA caters to all tastes and a variety of diets. Despite the restrictions of working full-time, which limits how often I can take part, whenever I have the luxury of doing so, it's a cozy, tasty, and lavish total sensory experience which I really anticipate and savor on every level. Thank you, Lisa and Jeff, for your warmth and positive welcome, your opening of your spacious house, and your generosity, and helping to sustain community every Friday. I look forward to seeing you and all my other friends—old, new, and yet to be made —again before long.

Corinna Borden

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

@AAJoker, thank you for your good questions. I will take each one in turn. 1. How are they handling 180 people in a neighborhood setting without impact others? Breakfast is served between 6:30 and 10. I see a lot of people riding bikes (even in the winter) and walking. I park my car and I have never run into an issue with finding a place to park 2. What is the arrangement on &quot;donations&quot;?(I'm assuming donations as otherwise this would be a business) What is the expected donation per person? The expected donation is $12-15 per person, all of their financial information is online. Here is the link. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> 3. Are foodstuffs considered an adequate substitution for a monetary donation? That is a question you would have to ask them. 4. Has their kitchen been certified by the health inspector? (possibly avoidable via the donation principal) This question was raised last year. Selma Cafe is currently under the auspices of Slow Food Huron Valley and as part of that 501c3 foundation you can hold fundraising events in a non-certified kitchen. 5. What are the times? 6:30-10 Thanks for these good questions!


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 10:07 p.m.

Corinna: What about the effect on local residents? Are they all enamored with the traffic and parking issues created by SELMA?

sun runner

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 5:42 p.m.

I have been steadily attending the Friday morning breakfasts at Jeff and Lisa's since March of 2009. I'm part of the pre-work crowd that arrives around 6:30-6:45 am. We're a tight knit bunch. Breakfasts at SELMA are one of the things I love telling people about in regards to the Ann Arbor local food scene.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

The interview with Lisa Gottlieb ends with the sentiment &quot;...just as meaningful to me is the environment we have created of inclusion, appreciation, physical and emotional safety...&quot;, which my own visits confirm. Congratulations. I am saddened by the intrusion into the Comments of the opposite sentiments of discord and political divisiveness, particularly when they are dragged in totally off-topic: Jeff is a local food advocate, and the antics at the food co-op over the failed attempt to ban Israeli couscous has nothing to do with the Selma Cafe.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 11:10 p.m.

roady...jeffs support didnt come from anti-boycott &quot;activists&quot; fact there are only a relative handful of us, and we only vote once ( in contrast to multiple voting attempts by the other side, which i personally saw being encouraged on one occasion). The support simply came from normal ,sensible members who recognized the &quot;activism&quot; of you and your colleagues as being intellectually and factually mendacious , malicious and pernicious to the coops goals. I'm at SELMA often ...stop by sometime and we can chat face to face. I'd love that.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

bedrog: I meant to say he deserved alot of credit from anti-boycott activists who supported his board candidacy.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

roadman...are you capable of holding a consistant thought?? earlier in a response to one of mine you commended jeff mccabe for running....and good that he did, given the candidates whose toxic agenda was clearly incompatible with coop values., as multiple votes on their sole , nonsensical issue decisively proved.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:58 p.m.

&quot;....the antics at the food coop over the failed attempt to ban Israeli couscous has nothing to do with the Selma Cafe&quot;. Wasn't Jeff McCabe recruited after the candidate deadline passed to run against Green Party activists supporting a boycott?He took sides.

Jim Knight

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 3:14 p.m.

Several off-topic/personal attack comments - all by the same person - were removed.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 12:37 p.m.

The meanspirited nature of some of these posts ( predictably so in a couple of cases) is hard to fathom. As frequent SELMA habitue I've never sensed an undo traffic burden on the neighborhhod ( many folks walk or bike ) and theres always nearby parking. The event is open for several hours ,so the total patronage is never all at one time. And mostly, its not a Jonestown type cult . If you dont want to come ( e.g. over worries about health inspection...although often the meals are prepared by local 'name' chefs..., don't.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

my 'undo' should of course have been &quot;undue&quot;.....i do try to maintain standards even when i'm responding angrily to &quot;name withheld's for violating converation guidelines'.

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 11:54 a.m.

Interesting local blog story on the local food movement: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Feb 23, 2011 : 6:46 p.m.

The reference is to an article on Pat Lesko's snarky website, so all the bile exchanges there are appropriate where Mr. Goldsmith leads the attack on SELMA there just as Roadman sounds the "cavalry" charge here. Lisa Gottlieb very capably and patiently tears down all the detractors' arguments on that thread in the comments area, yet they persist in making them over and over again. Here is what Lesko claims in the lead article to which Mr. Goldsmith offers a link: "The suggested donation for breakfast [at Selma Café] is $10-$15 per person, and a cup of coffee will set you back $3.00. Breakfast of local food in that salon might some day create a new vital and sustainable regional food economy, but at $70+ for breakfast for four, it fits perfectly into the mold of traditional elitism that [B.R.] Myers argues defines local food movements and foodism [in an article, "The Moral Crusade Against Foodies" in _The Atlantic_]..." A _suggested_ _donation_ is just that, _suggested_ and a _donation,_ not required and not a set price. No one is forced to eat there, or pay that; if it's beyond Ms. Lesko's means, and she otherwise might enjoy eating there, she is free to put whatever she feels she can afford and is appropriate in the donation jars. No one is going to scream at her (like she does in her blog) or slap her wrist for under-donating. —ContreMilice


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

Alan: Thanks for the link. I am flabbergasted that Mc Cabe and Gottlieb are allowed by the county and city to foul up traffic and parking every Friday and poor residents have no recourse than to put up wth it. If they want to open up a cafe downtown - more power to them, but not in a residential neighborhood.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 4:53 a.m.

Too bad that they aren't vegetarian...Maybe we veggies in the area can start one of these cafes up...

sun runner

Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 2:41 p.m.

There is always a vegetarian meal option, and recently most menus also include a vegan option.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 1:52 a.m.

What isn't really clear to me is: 1. How are they handling 180 people in a neighborhood setting without impact others? 2. What is the arrangement on &quot;donations&quot;?(I'm assuming donations as otherwise this would be a business) What is the expected donation per person? 3. Are foodstuffs considered an adequate substitution for a monetary donation? 4. Has their kitchen been certified by the health inspector? (possibly avoidable via the donation principal) 5. What are the times?


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

Thank you a2joker for your fine observations! Did political connections help them? Why would a city or county allow an eatery in the middle of a residential neighborhood?


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 7:14 p.m.

re foodstuffs= monetary donation: don't think so, since the menu is pre-established by the chef du jour ( including the likes of Eve Aronoff and other local pinnacles of the foodie world) and always has 2 options....both gourmet quality. Membership in the SELMA e-mail list gives you a day or 2 's heads up on what's being served. But you might check with the hosts themselves....


Mon, Feb 21, 2011 : 11:23 p.m.

Glad I don't live near them with all that traffic--but they seem like great folks!


Mon, Feb 21, 2011 : 8:37 p.m.

a breakfast at SELMA is indeed an event not to be missed....particularly when the weather permits sitting in the yard and watching the chickens. Lisa and Jeff and their volunteers deserve alot of credit for hosting and consistently pulling off this event in gracious and efficient style.


Tue, Feb 22, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

And Jeff deserves alot of credit for running for the PFC board in 2009.