by Kristina Rivera
As Western Washington undergoes a record-breaking heatwave this weekend, it’s important we stay cool the best we can.
Why not stay cool with fresh-pressed juice that boosts our immune systems at the same time?
Hanan Hassan Diriye and Ambrosia Austin opened Melo Cafe, a juice and coffee shop, in the Central District in early 2021 to bring their passion for community, hospitality, and health to the people around them.
Ambrosia said their ultimate goal is to expand and occupy space in the beverage industry as a Black-owned and women-owned business that’s focused on nutrition and health.
“There’s a disproportionate rate of unhealthy beverages as well as food products that are tailored toward the Black and Brown community,” Ambrosia said. “One of our goals is to be able to have batches sponsored so that we can get it to underrepresented communities that may be facing a food desert, that [don’t] have funds to have Melo Juice, and things of that nature.”
Melo Cafe is in the former space of Cortona Cafe — a 10-year Central District institution committed to community that was run by Isolynn “Ice” Dean who passed the torch to Ambrosia and Hanan.
“We’re always grateful for [Isolynn’s] legacy, and we’re also really excited to be establishing our own,” Ambrosia said.
“When you find those places where you feel like people treat you like family or treat you like this is where you belong, you made it, it’s nice to see you — that feeling is really important,” Hanan said. “And it’s a feeling that Isolynn definitely exuded all the time. We love it, and we want to keep that same feeling.”
Hanan said it was imperative to create a space in the Central District that was welcoming to everyone while building their own legacy as a Black-owned business.
“It feels like we get the opportunity to interact with all types of people but also be a safe space right off the bat to anyone who looks like us,” Hanan said. “It’s a beautiful thing because I’ve experienced that, where I’ve been in neighborhoods where they’re gentrified and it feels like there’s no space for someone like me to participate.”
Hanan and Ambrosia met years ago through mutual friends. They both lost their jobs before the pandemic, but that loss gave them an unexpected gift: space — space to think about what exactly they wanted to do next and how to do it.
“It just felt like everything I had learned previously, including working at Starbucks and working at another cafe — all of that just came to serve this, and it made sense in a very interesting way,” Hanan said.
Right as the pandemic started in March 2020, Hanan started making her own juice because she has asthma and wanted to give her immune system a boost. Making juice made sense to her because she grew up with her mom making fresh-pressed concoctions with fruits and vegetables like papaya, watermelon, and honeydew melon.
“It just felt like it was a great way to transfer my love of flavor and also health,” Hanan said.
Hanan loved making fresh juice so much, she started sharing it with her friends. When Ambrosia had a taste, she was immediately on board, and the duo started selling batches of their revitalizing drinks on Instagram under the name Melo Juice — including the signature Melo Original flavor of ginger, turmeric, and echinacea.
“Hanan brought me some juice, and I instantly loved it,” Ambrosia said. “I was really excited to be part of her journey with selling it, and we expanded the operation and had a system going for production based on the resources we had.”
They chose the name Melo because watermelon juice was the very first flavor they started selling. Melo was also reflective of the feeling they wanted to evoke in people — a feeling that’s relaxed, calm, and inviting. They brought that feeling into the cafe by painting the walls an earthy yellow that’s the same color as the Melo Original juice.
Ambrosia lived on 25th and Union in the Central District, which is how she became friends with Isolynn from Cortona Cafe. The duo shared a jar of Melo Juice with her, and Isolynn became a frequent buyer and supporter.
When Isolynn told Ambrosia and Hanan she was going to sell Cortona Cafe and offered to sell them the space, Hanan and Ambrosia felt they were ready to take the next step with their business.
“It was something that we were ready to give it a go and move forward and get it out there to the public because I’m confident in the product, Hanan is confident in the product, and we wanted to give it a home,” Ambrosia said.
Opening a cafe during a pandemic was about as difficult as it sounds. Hanan and Ambrosia said many people were skeptical they could open a successful business during COVID. But they reminded themselves why they were opening a cafe and pressed on.
“It felt like we had to remind ourselves who we are and what we bring to the table,” Hanan said. “We know what we bring. We know each one of us is part of many communities. We know we have ideas that we don’t see out there that we’re trying to bring to life.”
“When it comes to success, you can fail in any climate, you can succeed in any climate,” Ambrosia said. “You just need to know how to step back and analyze the situation and move accordingly.”
Ambrosia added that opening during the pandemic set them up for success because they were able to adapt their business model to thrive in COVID conditions and easily shape what they wanted Melo Cafe to look like in a post-pandemic world.
Melo Cafe is a carefully curated space where Hanan and Ambrosia want everyone to feel welcome.
“Hanan and I talk about it all the time, the curation of a third space, and how important it is to open your doors and let people feel at home in between work and home,” Ambrosia said. “Hospitality is natural for us.”
Ambrosia’s favorite item at Melo Cafe is the pecan praline Belgian waffle with added fruit, and Hanan is addicted to the combination of carrots and oranges, so the Melo Sunrise is her go-to drink. You can also find okazu pan from Umami Kushi, Herkimer coffee, pastries, and empanadas from Rapa Nui Foods on Melo Cafe’s menu.
As for the future of Melo, Ambrosia and Hanan want to make Melo Juice accessible to everyone everywhere while maintaining their signature sense of hospitality.
“Maintaining integrity in our ingredients, our style, and the way that we treat people — and always looking to expand and reach the greater community — is my ultimate goal with Melo,” Ambrosia said.
Kristina Rivera is the marketing and communications coordinator at Intentionalist. She graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in journalism and public relations and has worked with organizations ranging from local nonprofits to global PR firms.
📸 Featured Image: A plate of fruit and cream Belgian waffles, bottles of Melo Juice, pastries, and coffee from Melo Cafe in the Central District. (Photo: Melo Cafe)
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!