Social service restaurant Curt’s Cafe in danger of closing


Daily file photo by Susan Du

Curt’s Cafe employee Chandel Ramsey takes an order at the cafe. Ramsey found work after graduating from the cafe’s restaurant training program.

Susan Du, City Editor

If the city declines to grant Curt’s Cafe a requested $50,000, Evanston will lose its only ex-offender reentry employment program.

Susan Trieschmann of Curt’s Cafe is asking the city for support to stay afloat. The city isn’t clear where the funds should come from, but Evanston would lose more than a restaurant if Curt’s closes, Trieschmann said.

Curt’s Cafe, 2922 Central St., is a nonprofit restaurant that employs previously incarcerated young adults, training them in the restaurant business and providing programs to help them cope with reassimilating into society.

But because Trieschmann’s application for nonprofit standing has not been processed on time, she can’t apply for large grants, and before the kitchen is remodeled, she needs to travel to three different grocery stores every morning to pick up food for resale. The result is that Curt’s is in imminent danger of closing due to financial burdens.

“I knew from the beginning I had about six months of life and then I’d be challenged,” Trieschmann said. “Right now I’m continuing to try to fundraise.”

Trieschmann has spent Sundays speaking to religious groups and secular organizations about fundraising and has opened Curt’s for private and catering events to boost revenues. Still, she said she worries these efforts will not be enough to counteract her financial worries.

“I do everything possible, but I go so far behind every day it’s difficult to catch up,” she said.

Trieschmann presented her restaurant’s case before the city’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. Committee members were in favor of helping Curt’s but questioned where the $50,000 would come from, city officials said.

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), whose ward includes Curt’s, said Trieschmann’s decision to speak to the committee was a good way to raise awareness for her business and gather city and community support.

“The discussion has just started,” Tendam said. “I’m not sure where some of my colleagues stand, but I think that it’s certainly … the sentiment that we really, really need this to stay open. Funding is the question … although creating jobs certainly is an economic development goal.”

In order to find alternative solutions to Curt’s Cafe’s problems, Tendam connected Trieschmann with Lending for Evanston and Northwestern Development, a Northwestern microfinance group.

Weinberg junior Ani Ajith, LEND director of outreach and a former Daily staffer, said LEND representatives have had a preliminary meeting with Trieschmann, during which they talked about her business in depth. Going forward, Ajith said LEND would need to determine whether offering its resources would be the best use of Trieschmann’s time.

“(Trieschmann has) got a fantastic business with a great mission,” the Weinberg junior said. “We’ve gotten a sense of the community support for Curt’s Cafe, which is very important to us. We’ve gotten a sense of what the business does and it’s an extremely important mission. We’ve gotten an initial sense of where we can help.”

Ajith added the next meeting LEND will have with Trieschmann will involve a more in-depth look into Curt’s financial situation. However, as a microloan organization, he said he recognizes that LEND would not be able to address the restaurant’s full need or help Trieschmann attain her $50,000 goal.

“What our microloans focus on are the crucial things that help grow a business, to put it on a financial stability footing,” he said. “What (Trieschmann) is looking for from the city and from the community is a lot more monetary assistance and financial support than what we could provide, and she and we are on the same page on that front.”

But for Trieschmann, every day is a struggle, and her frustration is building. She said she just wants the city to step up and commit to helping her program survive.

“They’re all willing to give me lip service, but (they are) not willing to pull the plug and make the money available,” she said. “They’re not saying they don’t think it’s a good idea … but they’re all just talking about it as opposed to making sure something is going to be done.”