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Local Stars Come Out to Shine For Iconic Brooklyn Moon Cafe

A host of musicians and celebrities, including actor Jeffrey Wright, DJ Logic and members of Living Colour, will peform at a benefit concert on Friday at the Brooklyn Music School.
Michael Thompson (center), owner of Brooklyn Moon Cafe, in 2020, when he cooked over 200 meals a day for frontline workers.

Michael Thompson vividly remembers when he knew his Fort Greene restaurant, Brooklyn Moon Cafe, meant something to the larger Brooklyn community. 

He had opened the now iconic neighborhood joint, located at 745 Fulton Street, in January 1995. What started as a simple coffee shop has since morphed into the Caribbean-Soul food restaurant that it is today. The late 90s was the height of what is known as the Black Brooklyn Renaissance, and Fort Greene was teeming with young, Black artists and creatives bursting with a desire to express themselves.

When a hastily-planned one-year anniversary party brought out a throng of people during a snowstorm in 1996, Thompson said he felt he owed the community to keep the cafe going, despite the fact that he was “winging it.”

“I looked around at everyone laughing and having a great time and thought to myself, ‘Now I really have to work,’” Thompson told BK Reader. 

brooklynmoonfundraiserToday, almost thirty years later, Thompson is asking the community to return the favor. Following a string of bad luck and perilous post-pandemic finances, Thompson is throwing a benefit concert on Friday at the Brooklyn Music School to save his business that helped grow, sustain and launch many Black artists’ careers. 

“I know people think I’m complaining when I tell them how hard it’s been to operate this place, but I’m just telling the truth,” said Thompson. 

A host of artists and musicians will headline Friday’s fundraising event, including Emmy-winning actor Jeffrey Wright, ESREAC (featuring Mark Kelley from the Roots and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), DJ Logic, members of Living Colour, singer/songwriter Emanuel Casablanca, poet Sharrif Simmons, DJ and producer CX KiDTRONiK, poet Carl Hancock Rux, and others.

When Thompson opened the cafe in 1995, he said he didn’t have a grand vision for the place, other than it would be a place for the neighborhood to hang out. He started the now legendary Friday open-mic poetry night a few months after he started the cafe simply to get more people through the door. 

Saul Williams, Jessica Care Moore, Mos Def, Amiri Baraka, Chris Rock, muMs da Schemer, and Erykah Badu are just some of the well-known names that performed and hung out at the cafe. 

“People had a lot of stories to tell,” he said.

Thompson tapped into the talents of local residents who were bursting with creativity. He soon invited comedians and musicians to perform, and eventually turned his walls into an art gallery.

Thompson said his financial troubles started during the pandemic. When most of the city’s restaurants shut down in 2020 and business owners filed paperwork for loans and grants, he was churning out nearly 200 meals a day for borough hospital workers. 

As Brooklyn awoke from the pandemic, Thompson said he became aware of his new surroundings. Fort Greene, which had already gentrified, looked even more different as friends had died or moved away. Many area Black businesses, which he also mentioned had trouble securing loans or grants, closed at a rapid clip. 

The bus stop right outside his front doors prohibited him from expanding the restaurant’s outdoor seating. Then a water main ruptured in the building, forcing Thompson to close his doors for three months. After two break-ins, coupled with labor issues, he paired back his hours to night service only.

“It was a bad joke that kept going,” he said. 

By January 2023, Thompson said he was getting fed up and buried in debt. He owed back rent and taxes and started a GoFundMe campaign, which has yielded less than $8,000 so far. 

Hoping to raise $40,000 from Friday’s fundraiser, which was organized by his friend and drummer Don McKenzie, Thompson said he is not quite ready to give up. Once the doors are back open, he plans to produce what he calls his version of National Public Radio’s “Tiny Desk” concert series, where old friends come by to perform for an intimate audience. He is also working on “Into The Wilderness,” a documentary about Brooklyn Moon’s rich history. 

But he also knows change is necessary for survival, moving forward. His daughter, Camille Thompson, is ready to step into the family business to help him, he said.

“You have to program yourself for change and accept the fact that young people will do things differently,” he said. “But I’m still looking to create more beauty that’s also part of the past.”

Music For The Moon: A Benefit for Concert for the Brooklyn Music School and Blue Moon Cafe is on Friday, April 5, at 126 St. Felix Street. Doors open at 7:00pm for the 8:00pm show. 

Kaya Laterman

About the Author: Kaya Laterman

Kaya Laterman is a long-time news reporter and editor based in Brooklyn.
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