If you have traveled down Baldwin County Highway 104 between Fairhope and Robertsdale, you have passed by Brodie’s Cream and Bean. It sits prominently on the south side in the heart of Silverhill. Silverhill is one of those quaint, charming, rural communities with enough interesting shops and restaurants that entice people to stop and see what’s going on. So I did!
A few weeks ago, Brodie’s hosted a Market Day weekend with food trucks and several regional vendors selling arts and crafts. We had company in town, and I was seeking out Divine Empanadas Food Truck. We did a little poking around and purchased several handmade gifts and many empanadas. I stepped into Brodie’s Cream and Bean to meet Lisa Brodie and promised to return and learn more when she wasn’t as busy.
We scheduled a sit-down with me thinking we would talk about the old-time soda fountain, ice cream counter, and gift shop. It was so much more. Lisa was born in Williamsburg, Virginia where she says, “I would learn about the early history of America and then go see it. It was pretty cool.” At age ten, Lisa’s family moved to Searcy, Arkansas, where she and her husband, Curtis, met at Harding University, located there. They both earned their teaching degrees and ended up teaching at the same school, Mobile Christian.
Curtis was a youth minister and coach and has always had a passion for students. Lisa says, “I always wanted to marry a coach and youth minister.” It was a match made in heaven. In 1999, Lisa wanted to move to the Eastern Shore and fell in love with Silverhill but couldn’t find the right house for their growing family. They eventually moved with their five kids to Daphne where Curtis coached football and basketball, first at Fairhope High School and then at Bayside Academy.
After 14 years, Lisa found a lot in Silverhill and a place to open an ice cream shop.“We had always wanted an ice cream and coffee shop. In the back of my mind, I wanted a place for students to gather.” They built their house and closed on the house and the ice cream shop property in the same week. “I don’t recommend that!”
In 2007, Lisa went on a mission trip to Tanzania, Africa. While there, she saw a momma, “Just like me” carrying her baby and walking to find water from the most unimaginable places. “She was carrying a plastic bottle with brown water for drinking. As I stood there, I saw the distance they would walk to find water and the color of the water they could get, which broke my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking this could be me.” When she returned home, she kept thinking, “We’ve got to do something,” and began looking online to see what they could do to help.
As she tells the story, you can see the emotion. “I wanted us to be involved as a family and I also wanted to involve students. I couldn’t find an organization that would allow you to do both.” Between 2008 and 2009, she returned to Africa three more times, with the mission team. “I was praying for an answer,” when her husband suggested they start a non-profit to do water projects in Africa, then people started volunteering to help.
In 2010, they formed a 501c3, and Lisa began going into schools and telling students about water projects. The plan was to drill wells in small communities that did not have access to clean water. Students began learning about the children in Africa and understood that they were content and resourceful but didn’t have clean water. “The kids got into it and began raising money selling t-shirts, African bracelets, and such. In July 2010, they had raised enough money to dig the first well, totally funded by Baldwin County students and their efforts.
Their board named the non-profit, Maji: Hope. Maji means “water” in Swahili, and with water comes hope. Today, they have completed close to 50 projects and work with a South Korean driller that runs a non-profit and only charges cost. The projects are not always drilling wells. Some are just providing access to nearby water with pipes and pumps. Tanzania is the size of Texas, so plenty of projects still need to be completed.
Maji: Hope is operated by volunteers. January will be Lisa’s 22nd visit to Tanzania. Curtis and the children have been several times, and a family trip is planned for May. Support for water projects comes from students, churches, sales of African items at local craft events, and a few private donors. Also, Lisa has developed relationships with Tanzanian women who sell her their handmade items that she brings back to offer for sale in the gift shop at Brodie’s Cream and Bean. All profits from those items go to support Maji: Hope.
“Because we have seen the need for water, we have always been a volunteer organization,” she says. “We don’t take any salary and only pay our CPA to ensure we stay in good standing with the IRS.” The Brodie children cover their travel expenses and their 22-year-old daughter and twin 18-year-old girls raise their funds by working at the ice cream shop. They started a clothing line where they purchase second-hand clothing, bleach them, and create trendy designs to sell at the gift shop.
The present Brodie’s Cream and Bean is their third location. They just moved into a larger space in April 2022. “We want Brodie’s to be a gathering place,” says Lisa. “It reminds me of a time when I was younger. I want students and families to come, put down their phones, and have a sweet place to visit with each other.” Brodie’s has a room in the back that can be reserved for meetings. They have board games so people can relax and enjoy themselves.
The ice cream counter sells coffee drinks, frappes, malts, shakes, waffle cones, and banana splits using Old Dutch old-fashioned ice cream. The gift shop sells a variety of local arts and crafts including jellies, jams, candles, and cutting boards. For Christmas, they have baskets of ornaments, home décor, and children’s clothing and pajamas. Of course, Lisa carries the handmade items she brings back from her friends in Tanzania.