Lips Cafe: Family, Community and Coffee in East Flatbush

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EAST FLATBUSH – On December 15th, 2018, Jamane Weekes needed a haircut. It was late, around 7:00 pm, his regular barber was closed, so he decided he’d visit his old neighborhood, East Flatbush, where the barbershops are sometimes 24-hour affairs. The barber he used to see wasn’t in that night, and the cut he got was not perfect, but two blocks down the street, Jamane saw a “For Lease” sign – perfect for the coffee shop he’d been dreaming of opening.

The space was almost another Sprint or Boost Mobile – but the landlord liked the idea of a coffee shop best and so they signed the lease in late March. Lips Cafe is opening to public on Monday, August 26th at 1412 Nostrand Avenue, between Martense Street and Linden Boulevard.

Donna and Jamane Weekes pose in front of the lips at Lips. Ellie Plass, Bklyner.

Jamane grew up right around the corner from Lips Cafe, and spent much of his youth hanging out on Nostrand Avenue. Now, he lives in Mill Basin – five blocks away from his mother and co-owner of Lips, Donna Weekes – and just ten minutes away from the shop. 

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Jamane’s the kind of person that you like right away. He smiles easily, and often, and he speaks about what he’s doing with an intense level of focus and passion. Before deciding to open Lips, Jamane worked in real estate and as a market analyst, but didn’t like to work from home. This is his first food and beverage venture, but he has been doing guerilla research for years. 

“Me being at home doesn’t work. I can’t be there or I wouldn’t get anything accomplished, so for a long time I just found different dope coffee shops that I liked. I’ve probably been to every cool coffee shop in the Manhattan and Brooklyn area,” Jamane said.

“I realized that what made most of them cool wasn’t even about the coffee. You know, it is about the coffee, but it’s so nuanced. Unless you’re, like, a coffee taster, you’re not going to be like ‘this coffee is so different than this coffee’. It’s really how people felt in there, the concept of it, the symbolism of it. That’s what I tried to create here,” Jamane said. 

Jamane and Donna are very close, and have tried to get into business together for some time in various ways. It is because of her that Jamane got his real estate license, and her spirit for trying new things has always inspired him. 

The bathroom is shrouded in red lights. Ellie Plass, Bklyner.

“She’s just got all these ideas. One day she came home and she was like, ‘I wanna be a DJ, I think I could do it!’ When this [cafe] happened, it just felt right,” Jamane said. “We had the vision of just doing something for us, the family, and who am I going to trust more than her?”

Lips will combine Jamane and Donna’s loves – Jamane is an art enthusiast, and Donna works in fashion with her clothing line Ethel Fashion, named after her late mother. The name, Lips, comes from this line. 

“From the fashion line, I came up with a Lip line. I have lip bags and lip t-shirts and lip merchandise, and I said, ‘You know what the perfect name for this location would be? Lips Cafe,” Donna said, adding that the idea for lips first came from her tendency to hug and kiss people upon meeting them. Her clothes will be on sale at the cafe once it opens. 

The signature lip decal on the wall. Ellie Plass, Bklyner.

Jamane also hopes to use the space in many different ways, highlighting his love for art and for the art community. 

“I just fell in love with art, I fell in love with the creativity of it. When you look at a painting or a photograph or whatever it is, when you look at it, it started as an idea in somebody’s head. It’s just an inspiring thing to watch somebody’s dream or vision become reality,” Jamane said.

“Initially, I plan on working with artists I’ve grown up with and people I went to school with,  because I’ve realized that everyone has access to so many creative people and we don’t always realize that. We look towards what’s already been established,” Jamane said. The mugs at Lips will be designed by a friend of his, who runs the clothing brand Visionary Society, and one of his first artists on display will be another friend.

“I really want to start something here called Cafe Galleria night, where different artists of all different genres, like poets, painters, DJs, spoken word, could come in here and just manipulate the space and just do their thing,” he adds.

Details of the Lips Cafe bar counter. Ellie Plass, Bklyner.

Lips will serve coffee from Brooklyn Roasting Company, and tea from Brooklyn Tea, as well as Dough donuts. They’ll have pastries, bagels, and also Caribbean dishes like salt fish roti. Both Jamane and Donna hope to add a bit of St. Vincents and Caribbean culture to the cafe, potentially having pan music at some point, in addition to the food. The food will mostly be made by Kamal Rose, another friend and chef who once competed on Beat Bobby Flay, Jamane says. 

They also hope to apply for a wine and beer license in September, would love to be a pre-game destination for neighbors, and to serve brunch on the weekends. The space is also available for private events and collaborations, such as clothing line launches, art gallery parties, and birthday parties. 

“I don’t want to be confined to just one thing, I want to really use the space. I think we made it a really dope, beautiful, and we just want people to see it in [its] different lights. But, the core thing for me is always going to be coffee, and the event space. Those are the two things that I want to really focus on,” Jamane said.

The far wall has brick accents and sconces. Finishing touches are still being made. Ellie Plass, Bklyner.

In five or ten years, Jamane’s ideal dream is to look back on this as the beginning of something. 

“I would want people to be like, ‘this is where it started’. We don’t plan on just having one, so I just want people to be like, ‘wow, this is where Lips started. That would be my ideal thing,” Jamane said.

They will be hosting a Grand Opening party this Saturday, the 24th, beginning at 12:00 pm. Senator  Zellnor Myrie will be giving a speech at his own request, something that Jamane said “humbled” him greatly. There will be coffee samples, food, music, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6:00 pm.

Lips Cafe is located at 1412 Nostrand Avenue, between Martense Street and Linden Boulevard. You can find them on Instagram, @lipscafe__.

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