The former space of Casteel Coffee has now been transformed into a training ground for at-risk Evanston youth. Curt's Cafe, a homey coffee shop that provides a restaurant training program for youth ages 15 to 24, opened last Monday at 2922 Central Street.
The cafe is currently a full-time program for five Evanston youth who are currently working on their GEDs. The students work from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, spending six hours a day training in the cafe and one hour doing homework or research on cafe improvements.
The cafe is the brainchild of Susan Trieschmann, who has over 30 years of experience in the restaurant business and seven years of experience in restorative and mediation work.
"There was no program for me to model because there are not many programs doing youth internships, so I just made it up in my head through all the stories from kids I've worked with and sat in circles with," Trieschmann said.
Trieschmann said she works with Youth Jobs Center in Evanston and, if students have previously had contact with the police, students' case managers in order to provide students an additional support system.
"I clearly haven't lived through what they have lived through; they are all coming from different challenges, so we are taking a lead from them as to what they need specifically," Trieschmann said.
Chris Topher, a 23-year-old Curt's Cafe employee from Evanston, said he has become increasingly interested in pursuing a career in the restaurant industry since the cafe's grand opening.
"I was happy that Susan took a chance on me and told me I could come in and start working here to give me more experience around people and give me customer service skills," Topher said. "It's a really big chance for me. She always has bakers in here, so it will be great for me to learn from all of them. I'm thinking that it is a great experience and it is definitely a blessing."
Trieschmann said she hopes to set a precedent of students working at the cafe for roughly three months before she helps them with interviewing, resume skills and job placement. After that, she said she envisions Curt's Cafe to continue to be a network and support base for the students, hosting monthly "family dinners" for students even after they have moved on.
There has been a positive community response so far, Trieschmann said, and she expects that other restaurants and Evanston residents will continue to be supportive.
"I want them to come here because the food and the service is good and the coffee is amazing," Trieschmann said. "I don't want my kids to be treated like a pity story. I want customers to appreciate it. It's called dining with a purpose because your money does go right back into the kids."
Contact Curt's Cafe at www.curtscafe.org or at 224-715-3965.