At Rosa Parks and Atkinson in Detroit, an old church from the 1920s has been turned into a coffee shop and cocktail bar called The Congregation. It officially opens on March 5, 2020.
So what does it take to make that happen? Here’s our conversation from the podcast with Betsy Murdoch, one of the co-owners.
You’ll find photos and a lightly edited automated transcription below the audio player.
Daily Detroit: How did you find this place?
Betsy Murdoch: So myself and my business partners all live in Boston Edison, and we came up with the idea of something that we all needed in this neighborhood, and food and beverage was the number one thing and then miraculously, the church became available. So we were like, what better than starting a business and our community within an old church?
Daily Detroit: We talked a little bit before we started recording. It was quite the process to put this together. You were saying that it took a lot more in planning and development than it did natural construction. Can you kind of talk about that a little bit?
Murdoch: Sure. So the building we’ve acquired, we had it for about three and a half years now. And most of that process was going through rezoning and some property tax items. And then construction didn’t even kick off officially until the end of summer of 2019. So the construction portion is actually the shortest stint of the whole process. And now we’re here and almost ready to open our doors.
DD: So what was kind of like the theory of putting all this stuff together? Because I see it a mixed match of things that are homages to the church, right, I see pews. I see kind of like some well taken care of, but kind of upcycled furniture, things like that. Was there kind of an aesthetic that you were thinking of when you were putting this together?
Murdoch: Our first and foremost thing is that we really want to be a community space. So somewhere that our neighbors can come and feel comfortable, whether it’s their first time or their hundredth time coming in the space. And also our theory is an extension of your living room. You can come here and just hang out. You can pop open your computer at a table. You can sit on a couch and read a book. Really having that versatility for any which purpose that you might have.
DD: And so when they come here and check this out, what are they going to be able to enjoy? Because I understand there’s coffee, but there’s booze too, right?
Murdoch: Sure is. So we have a full coffee menu. So with all your fancy espresso drinks, as well as a full bar, so we will have beer, wine and cocktails, a great variety and ever-changing as well. And then we’ll have a simple food program. So sandwiches, salads, soups and things of that nature but also a lot of local fresh pastries and baked goods from right within our community.
DD: So how did you get involved in kind of the hospitality and all that because it really seems like you’re the the person who’s kind of putting the nuts and bolts together of this program.
Murdoch: So for the last five years, I’ve been working with Great Lakes coffee on the wholesale portion of their business, starting other businesses and helping them with equipment selection, layout, menu, creation, costing, training, all of that, but my family and my background is always been in food. beverage. So it’s something that I always knew that I probably stay within. So it was exciting. When we came up with this idea. I knew that I really wanted to be heavily involved in the day to day and just making sure that it was a success for us and for our community.
DD: What are you most excited about with opening this space because, I mean, we’ve got this beautiful place that used to be the sanctuary. And then you’ve got this amazing deck with like, kind of bleachers, seating and all kinds of stuff. What is your overall vision around this property?
Murdoch: Probably the most exciting part of everything that we’re doing is figuring out the programming that’s happening in the space. Every day is going to be a different day. So, of course, we’ll always have our coffee we’ll always have our drinks in our food program, but really bringing in the community element. So local artists rotating on the walls, local musicians.
We have tons of really cool ideas for the outside when the weather is permitting so from craft fairs and beer garden-style events, and then also just people being able to come and enjoy the deck. We have beautiful Gordon Park Across the street, so parents can come and watch their kids play while they’re sitting, having a glass of wine outside. So there’s a lot of opportunity here. And we really want to welcome anyone and everyone, whether you’re a group of five or a group of 25, you can come and enjoy the space.
Daily Detroit: And then downstairs, you’ve got stuff going on, too. That’s pretty exciting.
Murdoch: Yes, so our lower level, we’re kind of reserving that for anyone who has larger groups, especially community-oriented events. We’ve talked to a lot of fitness instructors about doing regular fitness activities like Zumba and yoga, as well as just different workshops. So from resume writing to grief counseling and things like that nature, but also a great place for private events. So birthday parties, bridal showers, you name it, you can really use that space for anything.
Daily Detroit: Well, and obviously you live closer being in Boston Edison, but I mean, the studio is just down in Clairmount. So this is very much within biking distance. How important is it to have walkable, bikable places to go to because that’s one of the things I found, you know, moving to this part of town is that you were just a little bit too far away from different hot spots. And I feel like this might have the chance to serve a really big need.
Murdoch: Sure. So, actually one of the biggest drawbacks, when we were looking to buy our home in the neighborhood, was the fact that there wasn’t anything for us to walk to. Luckily, I fell in love with our house. So we ended up buying and then we came up with this idea and no one else was doing it. So we’re like, let’s create this space. We’ve had nothing but positive feedback from our immediate neighbors. The Boston Edison Association has been extremely supportive. We really engaged a lot of people on Atkinson since we are part of their historic district, and then really trying to reach out to everybody in anybody in the North End and Virginia Park and LaSalle Gardens.
Daily Detroit: When are we looking at possibly opening I know there’s kind of one more hurdle to jump, right?
Murdoch: Yes, sir. Waiting on one last thing, and it’s just a waiting game. So which we should have any day now. Our official grand opening is slotted for March 5th, so we’ll have a lot of really cool things going on here, more so than what we would normally have in a given day. But we’ll have a ribbon-cutting. And we actually have a really cool final piece going on to our large window on the front. So it’s kind of a bigger reveal for that. But we’re hoping to have maybe a soft open a little bit before that. So you kind of have to be in the know to get some insider’s information of when we’re actually going to be open but we hope to be open within the next week or so.
Daily Detroit: And when you are open, what are the days hours? When are you shifting to the cocktail program, all that kind of stuff?
Murdoch: So when we are fully open and functioning we will be open seven days a week. Monday through Thursday, we’re looking at 7am to 9pm. Friday and Saturday will be about 7 to 10 and then Sundays we’re looking at 9 to 6.