Courtney Wise Randolph writes about Detroit’s movers and shakers for Detour Detroit. Once a month, she stops by CultureShift to chat with a notable Detroiter. This month, she talks with Darlene Alston.
The first signs that you’re in for something different when you walk into Just A Bit Eclectic are the old-school dial-tuned radio and rotary phone on display. There’s a bronze cat that lives on the wall behind a sofa and there’s a lap harp. As for the doilies — they’re on the ceiling. Welcoming, whimsical and a little like a secret getaway, Darlene Alston’s tea shop is a manifestation of her dreams and favorite things to do — the culmination of a vision she’s had since she was 20 years old.
Located on West McNichols in Detroit’s Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, Just A Bit Eclectic stands out for reasons other than lasting for eight years outside of Detroit’s greater downtown. It is also home to A Place To Begin, the nonprofit organization Alston founded and operates to support youth ages 14-21 exploring their options after exiting high school and before entering into adulthood. All proceeds from Just A Bit Eclectic are poured into A Place To Begin.
“I wanted to start a tea shop that incorporated everything that I like and the things that I like to do,” Alston says. “Those things are tea, people, handcrafts and farming.”
Listen: How Darlene Alston inspires youth and community through tea and creativity.
You read that right, reader. Just A Bit Eclectic is home to a registered USDA farm, too. When you enjoy a cup of tea or eat a meal at the shop, the vegetables and tea blends like Muffin Top, Granny’s Purse or Heaven on Earth are as fresh as they can get.
Before opening her space, Alston created the life she wanted to live for herself; she uses the tea shop to empower youth to do the same. She welcomes a new cohort of 10 young people every year who engage in six months of work habit and personal development training, followed by six months of on-the-job training in their own projects.
“People tend to think that children should know what they want to do after high school, but they don’t, because they don’t even know what’s out there,” she says. “So, we try to provide them with that opportunity to explore career choices, their interests and things like that … let them know what our past was like based on how we made things; how people created things and that they can do the same thing.”
Read the full article “At Just A Bit Eclectic, Detroit teens brew tea and dreams” on Detour Detroit »
At the foundational core of Alston’s business is a desire to provide youth with experiences and access to exploration. She notes that with all of life’s changes and shifts, her vision to simply open a tea shop continued to evolve. “There were so many things that were happening and as the need got greater, I suspected as the world changes that because a tea shop is fluid, we can change with the world to accommodate the dreams and aspirations of young people.”
For now, the tea shop is closed to guests as it prepares for reopening in mid-May. At that time, guests will be welcome to visit the outdoor spaces only, both in front of the shop and on the farm side where “there have always been tables and chairs for learning and tasting.” Alston doesn’t plan to reopen her indoor space until COVID-19 infection rates are consistently decreasing.