My friend SELMA

Here in Ann Arbor, MI, our community has something really quite special and as far as I know, relatively unique.  I’m talking about SELMA Cafe.  I first learned about this “thing” a few years ago.  The gist of what I was hearing second hand from friends and acquaintances gave me the impression that this was some place where people went to have breakfast on Fridays but that you had to get there reeeeeally early to get a seat.  Like 6:30 AM early.

SELMA (the name is derived from the first letters of the five streets near the home at which the breakfast is hosted) is all about raising awareness around and promotion of local foods and local businesses.  They bring in local chefs, caterers, and sometimes just community members each week and serve some special item or two (e.g. quiche lorraine with tomato basil scramble, or pork confit sammies and spring veggie frittatas) along with two or three ol’ favorites (e.g. waffles, bread pudding, or vegan granola) – all of which you can get with bacon.  Honestly, I rarely make it past the special.

They thrive on volunteers.  People volunteer on Thursday evenings to help the chefs prep the food, but also on Friday mornings to greet & seat people, act as wait staff, and clear and clean dishes.  This *would not* happen without the volunteers.  “Patrons” are requested to donate $12-15 or whatever you can give, all of which goes to benefit the local food system and local businesses.

So, how did I finally get involved?  About two years ago, a few friends and I decided to join a CSA where the weekly pick up was either on the farm or at SELMA on Friday mornings.  What a perfect opportunity to start experiencing this indescribable breakfast endeavor!   We heard about the long waits and realized that if we were to get to our 8:30AM seminars we’d have to shoot for getting to SELMA at 6:45AM-ish.  Our routine would be that I would give a wake-up call to my friend at 6:20AM and then one of us would drive the other – alternating by week – over, we’d usually meet a third friend there, then we’d eat a lovely breakfast, pick up our vegetables from the fantastic Sunseed Farm, and go home to race off to start our day.

I have come to realize just how valuable this routine is for me.  Not only do I feel so very ready to have a productive and happy Friday after a SELMA breakfast, but I’d have had just a really nice time with my friends.  It was often a time to have recharge-inducing face-to-face interactions that were shockingly relaxed in the otherwise relatively frenetic environment of SELMA.  Of course, it was simply fabulous to try all the new foods we ate as well:  my favorite chef would create dishes using molecular gastronomy techniques!  He had a PhD in Chemistry from MIT I am told.  Mmmm.

But I have ALSO come to realize that the value I earned from my repeated SELMA trips grew exponentially over time.  The community there is lovely.  It’s wonderful to feel as though the greeters (Salomon or Megan usually) are real friends.  Friends I wouldn’t have known otherwise.  I have bumped into Mary around the farmer’s market or at the library where we both work.  I have bumped into Nick (who at first I called “No Name” in my head because his masking tape name tag was often blank) at the co-op or Zingerman’s.  I ran into this woman with her middle-school age son at the Water Hill Festival.  SELMA friends are everywhere.  And I’d have never known these people were it not for being a regular.  And they are wonderful people!  This is perhaps my favorite aspect of SELMA.  I do love people… and knowing people in this big small town.

There are so many fun things I like to muse upon when thinking about SELMA.  For example, I noticed that regulars going to SELMA undergo niche partitioning!  Which is a fun thing to think about 🙂  In the early mornings there are families – usually moms though – with school age children (middle school generally).  Then comes the crowd of people who work 9-5, then presumably some of the U of M students or others with more flexible schedules.

I have volunteered in the past, and I hope to again soon.  Thursdays are nice because the prep work is done by a smaller group of people and everyone can get to know each other quite well.  Fridays are nice because you feel (and ARE) really quite needed!  They are always looking for volunteers on Friday mornings.

Ultimately, I am so struck by and feel incredibly indebted to the generosity of Lisa who opens her home every week to 200 people who swoop in for a completely unique breakfast experience.  I love Ann Arbor so much more because of this enterprise of theirs.  So, thank YOU Lisa.  Really.  I mean it.


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