East Side Cafe Small Format Transitions to Worker-Owned

Coffee, cocktails, and LGBTQ+ community are at the center of a Wickenden Street creative space


Behind a bright gold and indigo facade on Wickenden Street, where a Pride flag waves in the summer breeze, the cafe and haven for queer creatives known as Small Format has recently begun the process of reformatting. Far from changing anything about the inclusive, art-forward niche they’ve carved out in the neighborhood, the cafe is leaning even more into their original vision by becoming a worker-owned business.

“From the beginning Small Format has always prioritized community and collaboration,” says worker-owner Tameka Eastman-Coburn. “While a traditional business model is meant to build wealth for the sole owner, Small Format has always been a place for queer people to grow and build relationships. Becoming worker owned allows Small Format to fully embody these ideals, and move towards the non-hierarchical world we want to live in.”

Having opened in 2020 just before the pandemic ground things to a halt, the cafe has faced the full impact of COVID challenges, while still managing to find their stride as a lively coffee, cocktail, and art destination. Over the years, they’ve also served as a community free food fridge, harm reduction training site, and at the forefront of their vision, a joyful queer third space. “There are so few places that center queer community, specifically outside of nightlife, and with the intention of being intergenerational,” says Eastman-Coburn. “We center being a space for creatives to gather and share their art, music, and writing, while also offering sips and nourishment.”

Following a month-long pause this spring to make some improvements to the space and gear up for their restructuring, Small Format is back with seasonal specials and old favorites – like the Lavender Latte, which Eastman-Coburn notes is “a tried-and-true queer coffee classic.” On the cocktail side of things, the new
Matcha Martini topped with house-made green tea foam blends brunch with nightlife vibes.

“The Not for Vampires breakfast sandwich is an addiction around here,” they continue. “If you’re a garlic lover, this one’s for you. It’s vegetarian (or vegan) and sports the most perfect whipped garlic cloud that we make in house – just try it.” Rice bowls are a new addition to the menu, and they aim to showcase local ingredients.

Encouraging gathering around the arts, Small Format also hosts regular events like the Queer Knitting Circle Sunday afternoons led by fiber artists and the Queer Book Club on the last Monday of every month. Pride programming and a Juneteenth celebration are in the works for June.

As the cafe works toward fostering the best experiences for both their staff and community, they’re calling on the help of neighbors. “We’ve all been putting in an immense amount of unpaid labor and there are many startup costs that have accrued,” shares Eastman-Coburn. “We have a crowdfunder to cover expenses of reformatting and continuing this Small Format glow-up.” Follow along at @smallformatpvd for events and programming, and the link to contribute.



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