Eat and Give Back at KJ Café in Northbrook

Just inside the Bernard Weinger JCC in Northbrook (300 Revere Drive) is a small food kiosk with a big heart.

The KJ Café—that’s “K” for Keshet and “J” for JCC—provides developmentally disabled adults with an opportunity to work and learn while giving customers a chance to eat and give back at the same time.

Skokie’s Sandwich Club restaurant supplies the kosher food, and Keshet, a nonprofit in Northbrook devoted to helping individuals with special needs, staffs the kiosk with young adults (ages 22 and older) from their GADOL program. The success of this partnership has prompted them to open a second café this November in Hyde Park.

Abbie Weisberg, Keshet’s Executive Director, has been dreaming of an opportunity like this for years, and is thrilled to see “a business that could benefit young adults with developmental disabilities” finally up and running.

“The young adults from Keshet will be running it with a supervisor from Keshet giving assistance,” Weisberg says. “The Keshet men and women will stock the café, take orders and run the cash register. They will be paid a salary, and Sandwich Club will donate a portion of the proceeds back to Keshet.”

I got a chance to meet some of the participants at a recent visit to the KJ Café, as well as sample some of the tasty treats available for purchase (don’t miss the Firecracker Chicken Wrap!). Yvonne Stephans, a Keshet life skills specialist, was on site supervising the workers as they interacted with JCC guests.

“We bring in the food fresh every morning,” Stephans says. “That’s part of our job …  and we sticker all the food to make it easier for our Keshet participants at the cash register. They do most of the work and they’ve learned a lot. It’s beautiful to see how things have worked out.”

Yvonne brings the participants to the JCC each day, and they work in two shifts. Food that isn’t sold is donated to the ARK, so nothing goes to waste. In addition to the food offered at the cafe, they are also selling Keshet Servingware, lovely serving pieces wrapped with wire and beads made by participants in another Keshet program.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. The disabled adults are learning important skills and taking a sense of pride in their work; the JCC employees, members and guests have access to fresh, kosher food; and the community at large gets a chance to give back by visiting the cafe.

Discover this Local Treasure for yourself; stop by the KJ Café, which is open to the public Monday through Fridays, 10 a.m.—1 p.m. For more information about Keshet, call 847-674-5711.