by Kristina Rivera
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As western Washington experiences a record-breaking heat wave this weekend, it’s important that we stay cool as best we can.
Why not stay cool with freshly squeezed juice which at the same time strengthens our immune system?
Hanan Hassan Diriye and Ambrosia Austin opened Melo Cafe, a juice and a coffee, in the central district in early 2021 to bring their passion for community, hospitality and health to the people around them.
Ambrosia said her ultimate goal is to grow and occupy space in the beverage industry as a black and female-owned business focused on nutrition and health.
“There is a disproportionate rate of unhealthy drinks as well as food items suitable for the black and brown community,” Ambrosia said. “One of our goals is to be able to sponsor lots so that we can send them to under-represented communities who may be facing a food desert, which [don’t] have funds to have Melo Juice, and things of that nature.
Melo Cafe is housed in the former space of Cortona Cafe – a 10-year, community-engaged Central District institution run by Isolynn “Ice” Dean who passed the torch to Ambrosia and Hanan.
“We are always grateful for [Isolynn’s] legacy, and we are also very excited to establish our own, ”said Ambrosia.
“When you find those places where you feel like people treat you like family or treat you like you belonged, you did, it’s nice to see you – that feeling is really important. “Hanan said. “And that’s a feeling that Isolynn definitely had all the time. We love it and we want to keep that same feeling.
Hanan said it was imperative to create a space in the Central District that is welcoming to everyone while building its own legacy as a black-owned business.
“It’s like we have the opportunity to interact with all types of people, but also to be a safe space from the start for anyone like us,” Hanan said. “It’s a beautiful thing because I have been through this, where I have been in neighborhoods where they have become gentrified and I have the impression that there is no place for someone like me can participate. “
Hanan and Ambrosia met years ago through mutual friends. They both lost their jobs before the pandemic, but that loss gave them an unexpected gift: space – space to think about what exactly they wanted to do next and how to do it.
“I felt like everything I had learned before, including working at Starbucks and working at another coffee shop – all of it had just served that, and it made a very interesting sense,” Hanan said.
Right at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Hanan started making her own juice because she has asthma and wanted to give her immune system a boost. Juicing made sense to her as she grew up with her mother making freshly squeezed concoctions with fruits and vegetables like papaya, watermelon and honeydew melon.
“It just felt like it was a great way to transfer my love of flavor and also health,” Hanan said.
Hanan loved making fresh juice so much that she started sharing it with her friends. When Ambrosia tasted, she immediately joined in and the duo began selling bundles of their conditioning drinks on Instagram as Melo Juice, including the signature Melo Original flavor of ginger, turmeric and echinacea.
“Hanan brought me juice and I loved it right away,” Ambrosia said. “I was really excited to be a part of his journey with the sale, and we expanded the operation and put in place a production system based on the resources we had.”
They chose the name Melo because watermelon juice was the very first flavor they started selling. Melo also reflected the feeling they wanted to evoke in people – a feeling relaxed, calm and inviting. They brought that feeling to the cafe by painting the walls an earthy yellow the same color as the Melo Original juice.
Ambrosia lived in the 25th and Union in the central district, so she befriended Isolynn from the Cortona Cafe. The duo shared a jar of Melo Juice with them, and Isolynn has become a frequent buyer and supporter.
When Isolynn told Ambrosia and Hanan that she was going to sell the Cortona Cafe and offered to sell them the space, Hanan and Ambrosia felt they were ready to take the next step with their business.
“It was something that we were willing to try and go ahead and make it known to the public because I have confidence in the product, Hanan has confidence in the product and we wanted to give it a home.” , said Ambrosia.
Opening a cafe during a pandemic was about as difficult as it sounds. Hanan and Ambrosia said many people were skeptical about the possibility of opening a successful business during COVID. But they remembered why they were opening a cafe and continued on.
“It was like we had to remember who we are and what we bring to the table,” Hanan said. “We know what we are bringing. We know that each of us is part of many communities. We know that we have ideas that we don’t see and that we are trying to bring to life.
“When it comes to success, you can fail in any climate, you can be successful in any climate,” Ambrosia said. “You just have to know how to take a step back, analyze the situation and act accordingly. “
Ambrosia added that openness during the pandemic set them up for success as they were able to adapt their business model to thrive under COVID conditions and easily shape what they wanted Melo Cafe to look like in a post-pandemic world.
Melo Cafe is a carefully organized space where Hanan and Ambrosia want everyone to feel welcome.
“Hanan and I talk about it all the time, about conserving a third space and the importance of opening your doors and making people feel at home between work and home,” Ambrosia said. “Hospitality is natural for us.
Ambrosia’s favorite item at Melo Cafe is the Belgian Praline Pecan Waffle with Added Fruit, and Hanan is addicted to the combination of carrots and oranges, so Melo Sunrise is his go-to drink. You can also find an okazu pan from Umami Kushi, Herkimer coffee, pastries and empanadas from Rapa Nui Foods on the menu at Melo Cafe.
As for Melo’s future, Ambrosia and Hanan want to make Melo Juice accessible to everyone, everywhere, while maintaining their unique sense of hospitality.
“Maintaining the integrity of our ingredients, our style and the way we treat people – and always strive to grow and reach the larger community – is my ultimate goal with Melo,” said Ambrosia.
Kristina rivera is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Intentionalist. She graduated from Western Washington University with a journalism and public relations degree and has worked with organizations ranging from local nonprofits to global public relations firms..
📸 Featured image: A plate of Belgian fruit and cream waffles, bottles of Melo juice, pastries and coffee from the Melo Cafe in the central district. (Photo: Melo Café)
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