Curt’s Café Serves Up Hot Coffee and Hope for At-Risk Young People, will Honor John Kim of Backlot Coffee at Upcoming Fundraiser

Curt’s Café offers more than just a good cup of coffee, a tasty sandwich, or a mouth-watering muffin. It provides hope and learning to young people who often face challenges to finding success in life.  

Curt’s Café, with locations in Evanston and Highland Park, was founded to help at-risk young people build positive futures. The café is staffed by student-trainees, 15 through 24 years old, who are living in challenging situations. Some are grappling with homelessness and food insecurity. Others may have dropped out of school or had contact with the judicial system. 

“Our mission, straight up, is to improve outcomes for young people living in at-risk situations through life skills and workforce training,” says Tami Manton, interim development director. 

Fundraiser Scheduled

curts cafe fundraiser
Behind the scenes at Curt’s Cafe, with student-trainees.

The café will host it’s a ninth annual fundraiser — virtually this year — Oct. 2 to support the three-month program that teaches at-risk young people the life and employment skills that can help them get and hold on to a job. 

The event will also honor John Kim, who operates Backlot Coffee on Chicago’s northside and in Evanston. 

Kim is a longtime supporter of Curt’s Café and has hired program graduates and purchased scones made by the Curt’s bakery to supply his own cafés.  

John Kim

One of the student-trainees Kim hired is the son of Rwandan refugees. That student who went on to become a manager and trainer at Backlot Coffee where he worked for five years. He is currently in college. 

“He is an incredible human being and teammate,” Kim says.  

Kim says Curt’s Café gives student-trainees real-life experience that serves them well when they get their first job in a busy restaurant, café or other workplace. 

“I think what Curt’s does is set people up to be able to work in a faster paced environment,” he says. “They are able to bring in people, work with them, and give them the skills they need so when they come out of that program they are able to succeed in a shop that’s a little bit busier.” 

For young adults who may be living on the street and lack family support, finding a job can feel impossible. It also can lead them to a place of desperation or destructive habits, Manton says. That makes Curt’s mission essential. 

Founder Finds Inspiration

curts cafe

Curt’s Café was founded by Susan Trieschmann who started Food for Thought, a successful Chicago catering program.

The company she co-founded with $300 went on to earn $22 million in sales and merged with a restaurant company with 20 cafes. 

Trieschmann went on to get a degree in social justice. The idea for Curt’s Café came when she talked with young people in the juvenile justice system who said what they needed most to succeed was jobs. 

She says in a Ted Talk that she is constantly inspired by the way the student-trainees strive to learn and how she sees them grow and build confidence as they reach for their dreams. 

“I am watching hopelessness and helplessness break down every day with dreams, hope and possibilities in each and every one of the young men and women I am fortunate to work with,” she says.  

The fundraiser will be held from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. Saturday Oct. 2. Tickets are $100 each. 

The goal is to raise $75,000 to provide stipends for the student-trainees and pay for other needs such as mental health services. 

The event will feature student-trainees telling their own compelling stories, performing, and showing their artwork. 


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Ann Marie Scheidler is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and five children. She tends to be where her kids are, but if you can’t find her there, she’s proudly supporting Beacon Place as one of its newest board members. Beacon Place is a nonprofit organization that has changed the lives of 4,000 children and families in Waukegan. Their innovative programs take a whole child and family approach to education, enrichment and healthy lifestyles support.