a detroit love story.
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, behind these windows, live the soul of Detroit. For inside these panes have passed the luminaries, the dreamers, the artists, and the everyday. A melting pot of energy, passion, and people. Precisely what passes for your average day in the city of Detroit.
But for all the amazing moments that have happened at Avalon since the warm glow of fresh-baked bread first lit these windows in 1997, for Dessa Cosma and Soh Suzuki, one moment stands out:
The moment their love came to be.
Dessa recounts it with sweetness, “We’ve known each other for a least 10 years. We can’t remember how we met exactly, but we like to say we met at Avalon. I used to work around the corner from Avalon and Soh was working at the bakery, so we have a little joke/maybe real story about how me coming in for coffee every day is how we met.”
Remembering with a coy smile and a humble demeanor, she says “At some point, we started dating. We don’t really know how any of that happened, though. It’s a bit of a mystery.”
But their love wasn't a foregone conclusion. Just as Avalon brought them together, so did this city.
Dessa comes from the deep south. Steeped in the coffee culture of New Orleans where she grew up, her expectations for Detroit were next to non-existent. But what she found upon arriving blew her away, “As a southerner, I really like the people in Detroit. I feel like people here are super friendly people. People talk to strangers. You can have a conversation with someone on the street or at the grocery store. It’s the joy of cool people and cool ideas and cool history and beautiful art and great music. And also, this knowledge that we have to work hard to make it actually what it can be.”
As the son of Japanese Expats, transplanted to the Detroit suburbs via a stopover in California, Soh’s love affair with the city started younger. Despite living in a community that steered well clear of Detroit proper, Soh remembers his first forays into the city fondly, “My family came in 1992. In those days, there was the 8-mile divide between the city and the suburbs. But in my Japanese community, we had the 12-mile divide. My parents were a little more adventurous. They found different places to go, particularly in the city. Growing up, I remember being down in Eastern Market and doing things downtown.”
Connecting deeply with Detroit while working as an activist in the city, Soh finally broke with tradition and moved south of the city’s 8-mile border for good in 2004. Making Detroit his home ever since.
Together, they’ve grown ever more attached to the city they call home. Finding beauty in the people, the conversations and the challenges that help them grow.
Perhaps Soh says it best, “I find that what’s happening in Detroit provides the framework for us to think more critically, but also creatively. I think the city is a good place for us to be better people.”
Soh works at Avalon. Dessa is the Executive Director of Detroit Disability Power, a social justice group dedicated to organizing people with disabilities in Metro Detroit. Together, in their spare time, they work as local political operatives. Pushing themselves and the city to be better. Stronger.
And while they may not live just around the corner from Avalon any longer, they still make a point of going out of their way to find their way inside Avalon’s windows. Plugging into the heartbeat of the city and the community they find there.
Through their time in the city and the connections forged at Avalon, they’ve seen the city change before their eyes. Witnesses to the tug of war between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ that has been a part of Detroit’s metamorphosis since the beginning.
Feeling mixed about the changes she sees, Dessa gets straight to the crux of the conundrum, “I was really hearing people walking down the street, people who are new to Detroit or didn’t live here, saying, ‘wow, there’s nothing here. We could do whatever we want.’ And that’s very insulting because there’s a lot here. And there’s a lot of people doing a lot of things.”
Ever the pragmatist, Soh agrees in concrete terms, “In the ‘New Detroit’ the going rate for dining out or rent is double what I remember paying just a few years ago. Yes, there are more stores in certain areas, and the city looks visually more pleasant, but at the same time, it goes without saying, that that progress is not accessible for all.”
Cautiously optimistic at the positive movement being made throughout the city, they see opportunities to keep pushing for the better. Not just for transplants, but for all. The urge to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors is a challenge that drives them both in their daily lives. In Soh’s words, “The way I see it is that the ‘New Detroit’ shouldn’t replace the ‘Old Detroit.’ The ‘New Detroit’ should be built on the foundation of the ‘Old Detroit’.”
Community-based businesses like Avalon are part of that evolution. Reflecting on the impact of Avalon’s welcoming windows on their lives and the lives of their fellow Detroiters, they grasp what that sort of ‘old meets new’ ethic means to the community.
According to Dessa, “I really think Avalon is a place where I have met so many people in the time that I’ve been here. There was a period where I used to live down the street from Avalon, so I was there a lot. I would sit outside and read a book, drink a coffee and just meet the most interesting people from all different walks of life, all different ages, who also went there to take a break in their day.”
Soh remembers the history, “Back in 2000, I don’t think there were a lot of places across the city where we could just go and pop in for a cup of coffee or baked good. We don’t think about it so much today, but back in those days, Avalon was it.”
But Avalon is more than brick and mortar and glass and bread. Dessa gets to the heart of it, “To me, it’s about relationship building, which is kind of the basis for anything important that happens in the world.”