Sons & Daughters Pay-what-you-can cafe dream coming true

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Christie Melby-Gibbons, right, and a volunteer add a fresh coat of paint to a new wall in the soon-to-open Tricklebee Cafe.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Once a pint-sized entrepreneur with a string of imaginary businesses, Christie Melby-Gibbons now invests her spirit and time in bricks and mortar efforts to feed the hungry.

The daughter of Leslie and Andy Gibbons, Elkport, and a former Clayton County resident, Christie lives in Milwaukee where she conducts a ministry supported by the Moravian Church of America. Specifically, she is creating a pay-what-you-can community café in an impoverished urban neighborhood. Christie and a cadre of faithful volunteers are converting a nearly dilapidated 1930s storefront into a hub of “affordable, healthy eating and spiritual nourishment.” Her parents, her husband, David, and even the couple’s four-year-old daughter, Debonne, are among her most faithful workers and most enthusiastic supporters.

Scheduled to open in late summer, the enterprise is called The Tricklebee Café, a name that honors her mother’s hopeful yet realistic spirit.

“My mom is oft to say things that I find adorable and memorable,” Christie said. “When we’re readying to do a difficult task, she often says, ‘Well, the trick’ll be if we can get enough supplies.’ I always hear it as ‘Tricklebee,’ which evokes an image of contented bees dripping delicious honey.”

The Tricklebee is not Christie’s first café or even her first business venture. As an elementary student, Christie had an imaginary travel agency with a real a logo and business cards and later, a pretend restaurant. She moved from the world of make-believe to actual business transactions in middle school when she began selling handmade jewelry. In high school, she raked leaves, babysat, and shoveled snow off roofs. At St. Olaf College, where she studied Russian language and nature theology, she cut hair, accepting barters of comparable value instead of money. Before entering the Moravian Theological Seminary, she sold re-purposed furniture, jewelry, candles and other handmade items. During seminary, she kept up her haircuts for barters and jewelry making.

Following her ordination, Christie and David moved to southern California, where she started a clothing ministry following the pay-what-you can model and a community-based food ministry that helped over 100 neighbors in need receive free groceries weekly. She also organized a weekly community meal called Open Table.

“For neighbors without homes, this was the only warm meal with vegetables that they would have all week,” she said. “For neighbors who were lonely, this was the only meal they would share with others all week.”

Buoyed by the success of the Open Table, Christie began to dream of creating a café where the “trick’ll be” offering wholesome, hearty, chemical-free food to all, regardless of their means to pay. She even set her plan in stone—literally, A few years ago, at a 10,000-foot summit in the Sequoias near the edge of a pristine mountain lake, Christie and David used stones to spell out “Tricklebee Cafe.”

“I suppose you could say that coming down from our mountaintop experience, we began bringing our dream to a reality,” Christie added.

The family moved to Milwaukee a year ago. Christie is now a “mission developer” for the Moravian Church and executive director of her dream, pay-what-you-can community café. It took several months to find just the right space but patience and persistence paid off. A lease went into effect in early November. Her landlord, who serves on the board of a faith-based non-profit group that trains chefs, was so impressed with her vision that he waived her rent for three months and will charge only half the amount of rent the next three months.

The storefront dates back to the 1930s when it was built as a fish market. It’s been empty for five years so it’s needed more than a little TLC and sprucing up. During the renovation process, crews uncovered an interior brick wall and vintage mosaic tile flooring. They’ve added interior touches using scavenged wood from barns, old futon frames and antique windowsills.

“It looks more warm and inviting with each work day,” Christie said. “It has been great to watch the transformation and to see beauty unfolding in a space that was empty and dilapidated.”

The next big order of business is installing a commercial-grade kitchen.

A variety of funds have been used to support work on the café, including money from the Moravian Church and more than $40,000 in contributions from individuals, organizations, sales and grants. The café has also benefited from a highly successful crowd-funding effort ( that will continue accepting donations after the enterprise opens. And, of course, community members who use the café will contribute, too, paying what they can when they can.

Watching the transformation of the space and seeing her dream for a community café come true is exciting and affirming for this former Northeast Iowan who describes her faith as pantheistic (god-in-all-things).

“As a Jesus follower, it’s important to me to be sure that all are fed,” Christie said. “At Tricklebee, cheerfulness, health and companionship will be promoted through delectable meals, frequent celebration, and communion with the Divine. God’s kin(g)dom is revealed when food is given to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger.”


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