Birmingham, the sweet home darling of Alabama, is receiving its overdue share of deliberation. Not only is the city filled with youngsters returning home to open up gorgeous coffee shops, small plate restaurants, haute obscure fashion stores, cute shops flanked with record labels, crazy Zelda Fitzgerald themed speakeasies – it’s reminding us in the finest ways that the big city is over and that a nod for lifestyle is where the magic is. All hail a new America.
It’s in the midst of all this development that the Woodlawn neighborhood — just east of downtown Birmingham — has begun to adapt to an influx of newness. Woodlawn Cycle Café is just one more well deserved facet of a changing neighborhood, for seekers of caffeine and their many allies. Oh, and the very thought of them using Madcap from Grand Rapids, Michigan and a local Birmingham roasting brand, Domestique, has the city firmly hooked.
“Birmingham is a great city open to new ventures especially involving all things food,” says Armand Margjeka, owner of the Woodlawn Cycle Café. “Woodlawn is a neighborhood with a great history. In a way you could say I want to help eliminate the proverbial tracks that separate it from the more prominent neighborhoods.” And so Margjeka has opened three — with attractions day and into night — stores on the same block: a clothing store, a home goods merchant and a fine, fine coffee shop.
“I first started working in the Woodlawn neighborhood making music at ‘communicating vessels’ an amazing record label with an amazing roster owned and operated by Jeffrey Cain (Remy Zero),” Margjeka shares. “I would often stare at the boarded up windows of some of the closed buildings around us thinking of the amazing potential for cool retail shops, cafes etc. Being raised in communist and post-Eastern Bloc Albania, I spent a good bit of my childhood staring at boarded up facades wishing and hoping someone would bring life into them: so you could say it’s a partial complex.”
A bushy bearded Margjeka, plus his troop of music makers, would take breaks from recording and have to drive over the actual railway tracks to other neighborhoods for coffee and any kind of bites. No good for a hungry bunch of music slingers right? “As the music industry started to reflect a major paradigm shift, I became more interested in pursuing other passions of mine, this coincided with the timing of REV Birmingham, a non-profit who was constantly looking for entrepreneurs to take up some of these spaces in the ‘rough’ neighborhoods around Birmingham in order to bring some life and capital into them,” Margjeka says. And before you could say espresso, he started his own little empire that sparked new life into the neighborhood of Woodlawn.
“I started with Open Shop with the desire to bring something special to Birmingham in the form of style and fashion mainly for men,” Margjeka says. “I’ve always loved style and fashion design plus I had the superb influence of my wife and the elevation she’s brought to Birmingham retail via her store Etc… (carrying clothing lines such as Rodarte, Isabel Marant and Raquel Allegra and fine jewelry designers such as Cathy Waterman and Monique Pean).” And as any good and eager entrepreneur, Margjeka would sit at his gorgeous store looking across the street already imagining the next big thing: a small café with coffee that the neighborhood would simply adore was always on his mind.
“Coffee has been a part of my life since I was young. My mother made Turkish coffee every morning for herself and for my dad. They always let me taste it. So then fast forward to the current Birmingham coffee culture on the rise for a good few years now: serving great quality coffee was a must,” Margjeka adds.
“At the time an acquaintance, an avid cyclist, was working at Open Shop and as we’d brainstorm food and beverage ideas for the area,” Margjeka says. “He brought up the cycle cafe idea and with the already solid and growing cyclist community in Birmingham. So I thought that was cool and special for the city, so the cycle-friendly café concept came from him.” And thus in January this year Woodlawn Cycle Café opened its doors with a philosophy to make simple, but great, food and to not cut any corners on quality. Plus, they were determined to serve great coffee, yet keep it at a smallish offering with the highest quality service imaginable. And today it’s an array of espressos, manual brews, batch brews all day. With a few nitro brews and cold brews thrown in for good measure – it’s the South after all, the heat is ever-sexy.
Visit them at 5530 1st Ave S, Birmingham, Alabama. Or online at instagram.com/woodlawncyclecafe.