Welton St. Cafe Celebrates Platinum Anniversary
By: Tamara Banks, 2019
The unmistakable aroma of catfish, jerk chicken and okra float in the air from about 25th to 28th along Welton Street almost daily. Follow the tempting scent and it will lead you straight to Welton Street Café, home of some of the best soul and Caribbean food this side of the Mississippi.
I recently sat down with the restaurant owners, the Dickerson family, to talk about Welton Street Café’s 20 year journey in Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood.
Flynn Dickerson, patriarch and founder/owner of Welton Street Café, sounds more like a philosopher than a restauranteur. “If we teach in the classroom cooperation, kids throughout the world. That’s the only way we can make it. Make sure we’re all in the equation.” The Magical equation, he calls it.
With an infectious laugh he explains that when he and his wife Mona came to Denver from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands in 1969 he couldn’t even burn water. And back then there were few places in Denver to find soul food or Caribbean food. That inspired him to create a place where he could get his favorite cuisine.
“In 1986, I had $2000 in my pocket and spent $1500 of that on an oven. But I had a product and I believed in myself. That’s all I needed.” That, and recipes from the islands. (Their jerk chicken and jerk pork and catfish are to die for!)
Welton Street Café is truly a family business. Two of the Dickerson’s nine children, Fathima and Fathim Dickerson, both East High School grads, work in the restaurant six days a week. They started when they were 12 years old. Fathima says she looked forward to going to work every day. Plus, back then, kids didn’t have an option whether to work or not.
Fathim, head chef says, “We learned how to be responsible, manage money. I think it was a blessing. I like nice things, mom told me she wasn’t going to buy them. So, I realized I had to work. And it’s paid off.” He adds, “I grew up under my mom from the time I was six years old.” That’s how he became a great cook. He prepares delicious food gobbled up by thousands of customers every week.
Fathima, Welton Street Café’s General Manager and hardest working waitress in the business used the money she earned as a teenager to pay for her high school cheerleading uniforms.
Not surprisingly, they had a lot of friends in school. Fathima laughs, “Like, (the kids would ask) what’s your mama cookin? No PBJ’s! We had mac and cheese, red beans and rice. My classmates were like, ‘we want to go to their house.’”
They grew up knowing how to hold down a job and it kept them focused and out of trouble. “When my friends started going in to the work force. I had already been there,” Fathima explains. “If you can work here, you can work anywhere.”
We Are Family
Whether you’re the mayor of Denver, an out of town visitor, or a customer from the neighborhood you are treated like family at Welton Street Cafe. You can feel that family vibe the moment you walk in the door at 2736 Welton Street. In fact, Fathima and Fathim have known many of the customers their entire lives and most of them by name. “I try to remember who’s walking in to my house. I live here,” Fathima says with a laugh. And it’s more than just remembering names.
“One day one of customers came in looking distraught. He said he locked his keys in his car. He didn’t even know how to catch the bus. So, I lent him my car so he could go home and get his spare set of keys.”
This is what community looks like.
It is a struggle to keep the community feel and sense of legacy alive when there are so many new faces from other cities or other parts of Denver. Fathima says, “It’s important that The Points at least have some common place where people feel they can go and they will be recognized.”
A feeling of familiarity, shared experiences, memories, consistency.
With cautious optimism, Fathima says, “In many ways, I’m excited about the change in the neighborhood. I just hope that we’re included.”
The Next 20 Years – The Future Looks Bright
“Doesn’t seem like 20 years. It came so quickly,” reflects Amona Dickerson, Ms. Mona to her friends and family. “You gotta be on top of stuff.” And she is.
“I’m tired but I enjoy what I do. A lot of people depend on me. The community gets upset if I’m not there.” We all know that feeling when we see the “Closed” sign on the door.
Welton Street Café is Ms. Mona’s passion and love. Her favorite part about working and owning the restaurant? “Having the customers appreciate you. I’ve been doing it so long I don’t even think about it.
When the Dickersons first came to Denver from the Virgin Islands they were told Five Points was not the place to be. The truth is, then and today, Five Points is the place to be.