When you go to Detroit Vesey’s Café, many of its customers do just that, knowing there’s a place for their bikes – you’re greeted with all the signs that this café is supposed to be welcoming to the cycling community.
The embossed gold cycles on the windows immediately communicate that this is a cafe for cyclists. Inside, the exposed bricks and the high ceilings with intersecting wooden beams leave room for bicycle parking. Slightly annoyed, a mower on a bicycle assures customers that they are “fine”.
It’s a place where people can express themselves and get a plate of good food to fuel them for their next adventure.
LA’s Detroit Vesey’s not only exists to feed the stomach, but to feed the soul and connect communities. Since the restaurant opened in November 2021, it has become a place where cross communities can come together safely. It advertises itself as a “bike-friendly café” and hosts many events for the LGBTQ+ community.
Chef Erin Vesey had wanted to open a cafe for years, and the opportunity presented itself in 2021: “We were open and thriving, navigating the crazy dynamics and all the mandates,” Vesey said. “One thing that I’ve really seen happen in my community and neighboring communities is this need and hunger for community spaces and to be around people in real life.” That’s why they built a place where cyclists, gays and neighbors can come and relax.
Vesey has focused on upscale comfort food that brings Detroit flair to the West Coast. Famous Detroit-based offerings include Vernor’s, Better Made potato chips, Faygo soft drinks and Saunders chocolate. At the request of a friend, all of the sodas on the menu are listed as “pop,” the word Michigan locals use to describe soft drinks.
Over the past year, the restaurant has reduced the menu a bit, but the focus is still on comfort foods. “We had several people tell us it was like their friend’s house for brunch; it’s not stuffy and inaccessible,” Vesey said.
Vesey met his business partner through LifeCycle, an organization that raises money for a gay and lesbian center in San Francisco. It’s a seven-day cycling event where people cycle from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
“I was really missing that part of my life with COVID that was happening,” Vesey said. “I missed community and wanted to figure out how to cultivate community permanently.”
Then there are the events.
Every week, Detroit Vesey’s hosts a coworking date for queer and BIPOC people. It’s a safe space where people can collaborate or just sit and work. Made in partnership with Cuties Los Angeles, the event is called “Let’s Werk”.
“I know for myself, when I sit alone at a desk for hours on end, I just need other people around to help me make it more bearable,” Vesey said. “It’s also networking. People need a space to come network that is more neutral. Often, being in marginalized groups, not all spaces are safe to have conversations. We provide a space for people where they can talk about any type of events they are organizing.
But it’s not all about work. The restaurant’s weekly brunch has been repeatedly cited as one of the best things to do in LA by LAist. An event co-hosted by Cipherpunk, they bring in a diverse cast of kings and queens every week.
“It’s a great show – they do a great job of attracting up-and-coming new artists as well as seasoned artists to come in and do their thing,” Vesey said.
Other events at the cafe include movie nights, queer yoga, markets, and fundraisers.
Detroit Vesey’s opened to much fanfare in local publications, five-star reviews and accolades naming it one of LA’s hottest restaurants and best brunches. Nonetheless, the cafe has faced pandemic-related challenges that have depleted the money set aside for a liquor license. The team is now trying to move to a smaller, more sustainable location that has all the licenses they need. The restaurant’s GoFundMe explains the impetus behind the move and how the community can help make it happen. Vesey’s top priority when it comes to the move is to make sure the community feels welcome and have the continued opportunity to host events.
“A restaurant-funded community space is sort of what we evolved into,” Vesey said. “So we’re in the process of finding a new home that can facilitate all of that.” They said that while most restaurants have a community or followers, their community is the reason they exist: “We want to give people a space where they feel comfortable going out to eat or just hanging out. time and experience different parts of different communities that come through our doors,” Vesey said. “That’s our goal. We’re kind of a plug-and-play space where people can come in and do their thing.
Detroit Vesey’s has also engaged in advocacy. Vesey explained that Los Angeles recently passed a law banning people from fixing their bikes in public, which she describes as specifically targeting homeless people and people of color. “We hosted a coalition of cyclists working on bicycle advocacy,” Vesey said. “We’re talking about how to counter that, which has been super cool to see this community come together and work through some terrible stuff.”
The cafe has also recently started collaborating with an organization called Bici Libre, a volunteer-run bicycle cooperative. “They brought us food to prepare for homeless people as part of our community meal, as well as to feed people and make food more accessible to people,” Vesey said. “It’s always been part of the plan to use my skills to be of service wherever we can.”
As Detroit Vesey’s continues to grow, Vesey wants to increase its level of sustainability while continuing to provide a place where intersectional communities can come together and thrive.