Curt’s Cafe consolidates to one location


Caroline Olsen/The Daily Northwestern

Curt’s Cafe, 2922 Central Street.

Molly Burke, Reporter

When the south branch of Curt’s Café, located on Dempster Street, struggled to maintain staffing levels that would let them stay open later in the day, the company realized it would need to merge with its north location on Central Street. On June 1, Curt’s Café’s two Evanston locations became one.

Along with the typical challenges that come with consolidating business locations, Curt’s Café had to turn its two training programs, one for women and one for men, into a single co-ed program.

Curt’s Café, a non-profit organization that has served the Evanston community for seven years, helps at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated young adults aged 15-24 to develop life skills, gain workplace experience and use community resources to help themselves.

Rick Marsh, president of the Curt’s Café board, explained that prior to merging locations, the company polled the students and found out they believed a co-ed workplace would allow them to better experience the real world. The leadership has yet to notice significant issues after merging the programs, Marsh said, but some classes in the program are taught separately when they concern sensitive subjects.

Another co-ed location of Curt’s Café will open in Highland Park by the end of October.

“It’s a done deal,” Marsh said. “It’s been in the works for two years and now we’re just waiting on construction.”

Trudyann Smith, the general manager of the south location of Curt’s Café, dealt with the change to co-ed programming and becoming general manager of the north location.

Smith said that the co-ed space is “nothing new” as it resembles how most workplaces are in reality, but she did enjoy the gender-specific locations.

“I really liked having the girls over there and just having an all-female space in general,” Smith said.

However, she said Curt’s Café remains an important place for at-risk youth.

The program includes classes meant to train participants in every aspect of life. The students work at the café for 90 days, learning how to complete all the workplace duties, from taking orders and making lattes to working the cash register. Additionally, they work with social workers to develop life skills and get any emotional or personal help they may need.

The young adults are usually enrolled in the program for about four and a half months before they graduate. The short period of training is packed full of information — like learning to write resumes, practice anger management and deal with any personal issues participants may have — to make sure they are ready to pursue their educational or career goals immediately following the program.

Karli Butler, the social service provider at Curt’s, said most people who get involved in the program come through referrals with graduates recommending their friends and family members. After a referral, participants fill out an intake application and questionnaire about their goals, but Butler assures they don’t need any experience to enter the program.

Since the program is only a few months, Butler emphasizes addressing important issues and building relationships as quickly as possible.

“A lot of our jobs as the social service providers is to build relationships with them and develop trust so that they are comfortable with telling us what they need help with,” Butler said.

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Twitter: @mollyfburke