Early in September, the owners of Dose of Sugar opened the new cafe and bakeshop on the corner of Conant and Caniff streets in Hamtramck. The owners waited a year and a half for the spread of COVID-19 to slow down before opening up. Now the cafe hopes to create a community space to spread hope during trying times.
On a recent afternoon at Dose of Sugar, owner Yasmine Montalvo grinds coffee beans in a portafilter basket. She presses down to tamp the grounds flat then begins to brew the coffee. She pours cold milk into a pitcher, angling it slightly to create a froth with the steam wand. Finally, she pours the coffee into a to-go cup, adding the froth into a circular motion to make a leaf pattern for the latte.
“We wanted to stick by it and keep on going … We had already started renovating … So it felt like OK, we have to follow up completely, and just do it.” –Yasmine Montalvo, Dose of Sugar
Montalvo describes the space as, “a very chic warm inviting, little cute cafe shop.”
At the front counter there’s a large variety of baked goods, including enormous oatmeal cream pies and sabaya – a traditional Yemeni multilayered pastry with browned butter between the layers topped with black seeds , drizzled in honey. All are baked in-house.
Valerie Francia says she visits the café once a week to get work done.
“I’m just so excited to have a coffee shop in the hours that they’re open and really nice atmosphere and vibe,” says Francia.
Francia says she usually orders a hot tea but occasionally enjoys a nitro brew and croissants.
“I’m just really supportive of the women who run this shop, and they’ve done a great work to get a really sweet place in Hamtramck,” says Francia.
Montalvo grew up on what she calls the “Detroit side of Hamtramck,” calling the neighborhood near Caniff and Buffalo Street home for over 20 years. She started off as a home baker making specialty cakes for family and friends for years.
“It was a time where there were all those baking shows on like TLC and ‘Cake Boss,'” she says.
Eventually, people began requesting cakes, and her family and friends encouraged her to open a shop.
“Then an opportunity actually presented itself to me and my partner. He is in the coffee business. We figured it would be a great combination to go into business together and create something for the community.”
Montalvo and co-owner Habib Alhadai leased the shop to sell coffee and cakes.
Inside the café are crystal lake and aqua blue accent walls, ornamental plants bordering the storefront windows, and square marble tabletops. There are three handmade dark stained wooden grid wall mirrors and a variety of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Montalvo says there are other coffee shops in town but not all openly welcome women.
“We wanted to bring an elevated experience to Hamtramck, creating a safe space for women, where you could go with your friends enjoy some cake, enjoy a good cup of coffee,” says Montalvo.
Montalvo says she and Alhadai originally planned to open before the pandemic.
“We signed the lease, right before the pandemic started, so that was kind of devastating at the time. We were able to start the renovations, but then the pandemic happened and we had to stop everything.”
They paid rent and waited to purchase construction materials, many of which were either out of stock or cost a lot more than before the pandemic. Montalvo says there were other hurdles like getting building permits and health inspections. Some city services were backed up because offices were closed for a while last year.
Montalvo says the bills were piling up before they opened.
“We wanted to stick by it and keep on going … it wasn’t something that we could really quit. We had already started renovating … So it felt like OK, we have to follow up completely, and just do it,” she says.
She says having faith, support and passion helped them get through those obstacles.
“Faith is very important to me, and just like always, like making dua is important and you know, just knowing that Allah always makes a way for you, to like get things done or do whatever you need and everything is done by like Allah’s permission. So, I find a lot of comfort and guidance in my faith in that sense of like getting through obstacles or reaching [the] goal.”
Montalvo is Puerto Rican and Muslim, a small but growing group in the United States. She says she is proud to contribute to the city’s diversity.
As a woman, she says, sometimes people didn’t take her seriously. During those times she drew inspiration from her heritage and mother.
Montalvo says she is a strong, confident woman with a supportive family and business partner. She says while the business means a lot to her, it’s also about making her family proud and working with her business partner to bring the ideas to life.
Dose of Sugar finally had a grand opening on Sept. 4. Montalvo says her husband Abdullah, family members, and Alhadai were instrumental in getting things done.
She says she’s still figuring things out. She didn’t realize having her own business would be as hard as it is.
“I still sometimes feel like … to have a business you have to be part of a club and I’m not part of the club yet … Just getting information seemed a little bit complicated. If there were resources that I didn’t know about … it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be,” she says.
It’s been about two months since Dose of Sugar opened its doors during the pandemic. It’s a time when many small businesses have closed. Montalvo and her business partner
found a way to open despite challenges during the pandemic. She says it’s important to never give up on your dreams, even if there are setbacks.
While initially, the cafe went through hurdles to open up shop, Dose of Sugar has become a place that brings people together for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.
Listen: Dose of Sugar owners persevere to open their doors during the pandemic.