After opening Sweet Peaches Cafe at 1800 W. Muhammad Ali Boulevard in 2014, owner Pam Haines catered a meeting of the Bingham Fellows who started the economic development nonprofit OneWest. Now, Haines finds herself at the center of OneWest’s plan to develop a commercial and retail corridor in the Russell neighborhood.
In mid-October, OneWest purchased a single-family home located at 516 S. 18th St., directly behind Sweet Peaches and adjacent to a vacant lot being transformed into a community gathering place called the “Lilypad” with a more than $30,000 Choice Neighborhoods action grant Haines received from the city in 2016.
In addition to buying property on 18th Street, OneWest is helping Haines to obtain financing to relocate her restaurant to a building behind the current location, so she can turn Sweet Peaches’ current storefront into a full-service bakery.
Haines said her relationship with OneWest has allowed her business to thrive beyond her initial expectations.
“OneWest kind of adopted me. They listened to me, and I listened to them. It turned out that we had love for the same things. They wanted to do good for this neighborhood, and so did I. It was only natural that we came together,” she explained.
OneWest CEO Evon Smith said the purchasing property near Sweet Peaches is part of her organization’s strategy of investing in areas that already have economic development projects to build around. OneWest bought the home on 18th Street for $12,000, money that Smith said came from private donors. The organization has the funds to handle rezoning, she said, and it will likely purchase more properties in the area in the coming months.
“There is already a centralized core of revitalization happening on 18th Street with the African-American Heritage, Sweet Peaches and its expansion, and what she’s doing with the Lilypad. Our purchase in that corridor makes sense because it will add value to everything else that is already going on,” Smith added.
OneWest has recruited Community Ventures Corp., operators of the restaurant incubator program Chef Space, to identify potential tenants for the properties it acquires. Smith said she believes the project will also benefit from its close proximity to Louisville Central Community Center’s planned West Louisville arts and cultural corridor along Muhammad Ali Boulevard.
“What we are trying to be responsive to is what the community told us they wanted to see, which was more food options,” Smith said. “In our efforts to try to impact small businesses, we’re working with Chef Space to have multiple locations for their retail restaurants. You’ll begin to see connectivity from west Broadway all the way over to Muhammad Ali.”
Haines, 54, grew up at 35th and Standard St. in the California neighborhood. The place where she started her restaurant caught her attention because for years she got her hair done next door at Scruples Hair Deziners. Haines said she immediately fell in love with the people in Russell. She especially responded to the children in the area and made it her mission to try to mentor them.
Haines has an office above her restaurant where she tutors children. She also has a washer and dryer donated by Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4, that students can use to wash their school clothes.
“I can remember as a child cutting school because my clothes were dirty. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a loving and caring mom. It was just that there were 12 of us. So, the neighborhood kids know that if your clothes are dirty, Miss Pam is going to let you wash them. I teach the kids how to use the washing machine properly, how to fold a shirt so it doesn’t get wrinkled,” she said.
Haines was inspired to start working with children in the neighborhood, she said, after she noticed them walking around with nothing to do. She commandeered the empty lot, which is being transformed into the Lilypad, and started showing movies on a portable screen.
Haines broke ground on the Lilypad in mid-October. The architectural firm Gresham Smith is handling the design, which will include a grill, seating and a stage for public speaking. Haines expects the space to be open by mid-November when she also plans to host a community cookout.
“I always thought this neighborhood could use a little love. I could see that it had been neglected for years. That’s why the revitalization has come in,” she said. “I’m grateful OneWest landed in our neighborhood. They have not only reached out to me but a lot of other people too. There is no stopping us when we all work together.”