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Vandalism met with outpouring of support for The Daily Bird cafe

The exterior of a coffee shop is painted yellow with supportive messages on the large windows in front.
Brett Krzykowski
The Daily Bird's storefront is in pristine condition after a random act of vandalism.

If you walked past The Daily Bird on Thursday morning, you’d swear it was business as usual. Elena Laurant of HoneyBear Baked Goods, who runs the cafe’s food program, played with a passerby’s two dogs just outside the front door. A steady flow of regulars went through that door, picking up their morning fuel. Milk was steamed. Beans were ground. Coffee was brewed.

Two days earlier, something unfortunately all too usual happened as well: An individual who appeared to be experiencing a mental-health crisis channeled it in a random direction — in this case, The Daily Bird’s large windows facing Center Street.

“I was leaving work and saw a guy down the street in a state,” owner Dan Zwart recalled, “and so I came back to walk the employees to their cars. And as I was walking one employee, I heard the crashing of a window.”

A long table inside a coffee shop with flowers and creamer on top sits against an interior wall painted bright yellow
Brett Krzykowski

The destructive act and the psychological reasons behind it were made even more heart-breaking by the supportive phrases splashed across the cafe’s windows, greeting every visitor.

“You are loved.”

“You got this.”

Regardless of the perpetrator’s intent, it’s difficult to ignore the symbolic implications of messages meant to ease someone’s mind becoming the unintentional target of a person who probably needed to hear them most of all. “It wasn’t like he was attacking the coffee shop,” Zwart said. “He was just having a tough day.”

His empathetic response is the perfect example of why the Riverwest neighborhood greeted The Daily Bird so warmly, even before it opened. The cafe took its first tentative steps in April 2021 as a pop-up just a few doors down the way at Cafe Centro. By early December, Zwart had built a loyal following and a decent helping of goodwill with the community — enough to establish the brick-and-mortar location at 818 Center St.

As its window messaging suggests, The Daily Bird exudes positivity. The yellow exterior stands out, even among the street’s many eclectic storefronts nearby. The “You are loved” mantra carries over to the interior walls, which also offer the helpful suggestion to “Don’t be a jerk.” A pair of bikes rest near the counter, seemingly available as loaners for anyone who might need transportation — or maybe just feel the wind on their face for a bit.

So when the incident occurred Tuesday, it felt badly misplaced for a business that so quickly endeared itself to the neighborhood. It’s also exactly the kind of moment that reveals how strong the connection really is. The Daily Bird started by sharing the bad news on Instagram:

In less than 24 hours, Zwart got a very tangible answer to the question of how valued his cafe is to the community. People streamed into The Daily Bird all day Wednesday for the coffee, treats and hoodies mentioned in the social post. One member of the cafe’s team said it was the busiest day they’ve had in two-plus years (outside of the Riverwest 24, of course), and the impact extended well beyond the coffee shop’s walls.

“It was wild,” Zwart said. “I don’t use Venmo and had so many people hitting me up, ‘Hey, you got Venmo? Can I buy your hoodies online?’ People were just coming up to me and handing me cash.”

“I feel like Riverwest just holds it down like that,” he added. “That neighborhood is like a true community. You walk around, you’re talking to your neighbors, everyone’s willing to help out each other. That’s why I love that place.”

When customers showed up Wednesday to show Zwart some love in return, they went past windows held together with cardboard and duct tape. A short time after that demonstration of support, the window company arrived to make The Daily Bird whole again. Although, considering the response from the staff and neighborhood, it seems they were never broken.

“I want to shout out the staff. Y’all are amazing,” Zwart said. “And Riverwest, you’re amazing. Everyone that came through and helped out and reached out and shared the posts and all that — it was wild, and I can’t thank y’all enough.”

Audio Storyteller | Radio Milwaukee