The Michigan Squeeze Station is building a healthy community in Southwest Detroit

Art pop-ups, 4/20-friendly vibes, and ‘Obamacare wellness shots’

Apr 21, 2022 at 3:05 pm
click to enlarge The Michigan Squeeze Station owners Diane Brown and Denisse Lopez. - Randiah Camille Green
Randiah Camille Green
The Michigan Squeeze Station owners Diane Brown and Denisse Lopez.

“This is the real booster shot,” Denisse Lopez says about the bright orange drink she serves at her cafe the Michigan Squeeze Station. The spicy concoction, called the “Obamacare wellness shot,” features turmeric, ginger, lemon, and cayenne pepper, and Lopez swears by its immunity-boosting powers.

Lopez opened up the Michigan Squeeze Station to make healthy food available to the Southwest Detroit community at an affordable cost. The menu features wraps, smoothies, and fresh-pressed juices all priced between $6 and $8. The cafe, located at 6716 Michigan Ave., is sometimes affectionately referred to as “the Squeeze.”

We’ve all heard Detroit called a food desert. For many Detroiters, more often than not, eating healthy means driving outside the neighborhood and spending extra money. When there’s a McDonald’s on seemingly every other corner and you have a family to feed, the choice between a $2 burger and a $12 fresh-pressed juice is obvious.

That isn’t a problem at the Squeeze, which Lopez operates with co-owner Diane Brown. While the Obamacare shot has a kind of silly name, Lopez says the point is that they wanted to make it available to everyone. She tells Metro Times they end up giving away a lot of shots and fresh juices, which are made in-house every morning, because of their short shelf life. Brown even gives us some to take home and protests when we offer to pay.

Their generosity doesn't stop there. The Squeeze partners with non-profit HelpKitchen to give free meals to families and people in need. The cafe gets anywhere from 9 to 100 customers a day coming in for the HelpKitchen meals. And while it doesn’t cost the customer anything, HelpKitchen pays the Squeeze for each item, so they don’t lose any profits.

“The people from HelpKitchen told us at first the catch is they could only pay $6 for each item, but all our items cost around that anyway, so it worked out for us,” Lopez says. “We get to feed the community, and use that money to pay employees, buy a new juicer, things like that.”

The cafe is pretty quiet when we visit Wednesday morning and Lopez pours wellness shots for us and the workers. But by around 11 a.m., the place gets a rush of people coming in for their HelpKitchen orders. Brown and Lopez greet almost all of them by name, checking in with them about their day, and putting smiles on their faces.

Community is the name of the game here, not only through food but by supporting other businesses and entrepreneurs. The space is wide open to creatives, fitness teachers, artists, and whoever else wants to hold their events there. They have something planned for nearly every day of the week from a knit and chill circle to an art/rap battle party hosted by the Gallery Club.

The biggest event at The Squeeze, however, is the annual two-day Infused Fest, which is 4/20 friendly. The cafe gets a special event license for the occasion to sell infused beverages — all their usual coffees, teas, and smoothies, but with a touch of THC.

The fest takes over the long outdoor patio behind the cafe with food, DJs, performances from local rappers, and 4/20-themed goodies. Artists, bakers, herbalists, jewelry makers, and more set up tables to sell their handmade products in and around the tiny shop.

“It’s a staple of the Squeeze Station because we are advocates for marijuana,” Lopez says. “We have a Latino base clientele and in our Latin community marijuana is still really taboo. But then I had all these Latinos coming in who are older senior citizens asking me for advice because they don’t want to be on medication anymore, and they want to sleep naturally, and it feels good to have this platform to be able to spread the love and the knowledge to my community.”

click to enlarge The Squeeze weekly calendar. - Randiah Camille Green
Randiah Camille Green
The Squeeze weekly calendar.

This year, the first day of the fest was held on Sunday, April 10, with another installment planned for Sunday, April 24. We can attest the fest is off the chain. The first day was full of sunshine, feel-good vibes, and some damn good food. Lopez says the second day is usually even bigger with more music performances and people coming in and out, since it’s closer to 4/20.

Pop-ups and events are what helped the Squeeze stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic, after first opening in 2020 not knowing what was coming.

“Everything shut down two days later,” Lopez says.

When winter came and restaurants had to switch to takeout only, Lopez and Brown brought in other food vendors for pop-ups.

“They would do their own promotion online and have pickups here,” she says. “So their customers were coming to our place to pick up food, and some of them would buy a juice or something to go on top of that. And even if they wouldn’t buy anything from us, now they know we are here. So that helped us a lot.”

When the weather’s warm, the cafe still hosts free fitness classes like yoga, cardio drumming, and booty camp in the outdoor space. It’s a win-win for local instructors who get paid to host their classes there, and for the cafe which gets business from hungry students after the classes end.

It sounds corny, but the Squeeze feels like home — well, if your home was a low-key cafe serving smoothies and wraps in biodegradable containers. Lopez and Brown feel like the community mothers, always reminding you to take your turmeric shot.

They plan on eventually opening up a three-story building, which they have already purchased, with a dance studio, commissary kitchen, office space, and potentially a marijuana-grow facility.

“We’re working on a bigger building right now over on Grand River about 25 minutes from here,” Lopez says. “It’s gonna be community-based, community-minded, everything that we have planned for the Grand River location is to help our community thrive. We have a lot of plans and this place is too little to do it all.”

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