A program designed to prepare youthful ex-offenders for food-service careers won a $15,000 loan from Evanston taxpayers Monday on a split City Council vote.

The Curt’s Cafe project ran into sharp opposition from Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who said the city shouldn’t have to bail out a business that hasn’t gotten its act together.

Burrus complained that the organizer of the program, Susan Trieschmann, had opened the cafe in April without having the federal 501(c)3 tax exempt status that would make donations to the program deductible and that the cafe has failed to cover its operating costs so far.

But Trieschmann said she wanted to get the program up and running before the summer, so it could help provide a path to success for the troubled youths.

That goal has gained additional impetus in the past few months with two Evanston teens killed in shooting incidents involving other youths.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she has experience starting a not-for-profit and never would have considered asking the city for financial support.

But Fiske, unlike Burrus, ultimately voted in favor of the loan.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said Curt’s Cafe is reaching kids that other non-profits are not.. “I wish they’d gotten the 501(c)3 first,” Tisdahl said, “but I think they will be successful in the long run.”

The amount of the loan was increased from $9,000 proposed by staff to $15,000 at the suggestion of Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, after Trieschmann said the larger amount is what would be needed to build out the cafe’s kitchen so it could start preparing food on site.

Rainey said it was crucial to get the kitchen functioning as quickly as possible to make the cafe financially viable.

But Rainey persuaded aldermen to postpone action on another part of the cafe proposal — a $21,000 grant to subsidize the training of at least four ex-offenders.

She said she wanted to see more budget detail for how the grant would be handled to make sure there would be sufficient accountability. City staff indicated they could have a revised grant proposal ready for the council’s first meeting in January.

The cafe project drew praise from several residents of the neighborhood around its location at 2922 Central St.

And Alderman Mark Tendam, whose 6th Ward includes the property, called it “one of the mose liely, energetic and positive things going on in the city.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, suggested the cost to the city of supporting the cafe is far less than the cost of keeping inmates in prison, or the cost to the community every time a youth loses his life to violence.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the money the city had to spend on exra police time to investigate shootings in the last few weeks “dwarfs the money that’s being talked about for the cafe.”

Top: Susan Trieschmann listens to aldermen debate the request for city aid for Curt’s Cafe.

Related story

Struggling training program in line for city aid

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Bravo City Council and amen Ald. Braithwaite

    Susan Trieschmann jumped in with heart and soul to move this project forward. She could have waited, prepared a few studies, assessed feasibilities, ran projections and ultimately decided the venture was not going to work.

    This is not a damn venture, not a cold, calculated assesment of long term fical implications. This is a program that impacts youth at risk, youth who have damn few options, youth who could kill time by killing time.

    I have been to Curt's a few times and wish to go more often. I have seen the kids there, talked to them and seen that they have something to work towards. 

    Thanks for people like Susan Trieschmann who leap into action and in doing so show that caring comes first.

    The true return here is as Alderman Braithwaite pointed out – preventing the negative by far outweights the cost of running in the black.

    1. If you enjoy Kurts and find

      If you enjoy Kurts and find the venture worthy, perhaps you could loan her your money.

      1. I hope you don’t believe that

        I hope you don't believe that a wine bar should have gotten financial aid over Curt's. Evanston's purse strings are definitely loose, but there is a greater good in this case.

        1. Funding facts

          The "wine bar" was funded with TIF money set aside for the revitalization of Howard Street.  If Curt's were located in that area, they could have competed for that money as well.  These are two separate funding issues — please don't try to set up a straw man argument by conflating them.

  2. Curts Cafe!!

    If the taxpayers or city council of evanston had 1/4 of an Idea of what kind of women Momma Trieshmann is then this would have had been a unaimous decison. Momma Trieshmann has Molded me and other troubled youth in ways u could not understand. her love for other kids is almost compareable to the love of her own kids. her drive to see other people succeed is unmeasurable. anybody against the Curts Cafe Movement unfortunatly is adding fuel rather than water to the scorching hot fire we are currently witnesing in our beloved hometown of Evanston IL. 

  3. Issue not about Curt’s Cafe but using our tax dollars

    The issue is Curt's Cafe, like so many other so called economic development activities do not appear to be money makers, Ann Rainey – Lit Theater and Wine and Cheese Bar do not appear as if they will last, there are others, these are all pet projects, not business ventures. Aldermanic patronage for the public.

    Some of us think, the city should not be in the business of being a banker, for people to come and get loans for their business, when the city can NOT even run their own capital projects.IF private banks will not loan these people money doesn't that tell you, that the private market does not believe these so called business ventures are NOT money makers and will not likely pay the money back?

    The issue why is the city involved in these activities?

    Council members are not, I repeat are not – really looking at the real issues, these items are easy for them to deal with, and popular with the public.  The truth the city has huge capital problems so why are they using any capital on these activities?  Anyone remember how Wally stop capital expeditures for a few years, or how he said the city has too high a capital debt and he wanted to take it out of operating funds?

    The TIF funds have been greatly misused, a good recent example are all the silly little street lights they placed along the Davis, I notice one is not working already, wait a year or two and  many will be burn't out wait another 10 years they will all be rusting away another eye sore in the downtown, that is if you don't already think they are eye sores!

    The economic development funds are out of control, with no fiscal responsible, as we saw they raided the parking fund, for Trader Joes.

    Curts Cafe is a social service, so why are economic develpment funds being used, bigger cookie jar, they would have to cut another social service program to fund this so take it from another fund.

    Unfornately fiscal responsibility is not in the council members thought process, this year we saw no tax increases, but a water increase, wait till next year.

    Curt's cafe is not the issue, the issue is much larger.

    1. Curt’s and Bars are not the same

      Ponzi- WHile I agree with you that the council needs to stop acting like a bank, I would not put a wine bar, trader joe's, the waffle house, and curt's all in the same pile.

      Curt's cafe is a job training center.  From a purely economic standpoint,  it makes more sense to invest in providing job training to troubled youth rather than putting them  in jail at a later point.

      From a human standpoint, I think providing services that residents can use to improve their own lives with their own efforts is exactly the kind of thing local governments should spend money on- whether that be libraries, sports facilities, park district programs, or senior citizen classes.  These are the things that form the basis of our society.

      Was this the best way to go about getting funding?  no, probably not.  However, when a citizen like Trieschman puts her heart and sole into something so noble that is starts drawing together a community, it seems only right to give her this small amount of money to keep her open until her non-for profit status comes through. Should this become a constant flow of tax payer money?  Questionable and open for debate.

      I would rather see more job training ventures like this go up on Howard street with economic development money, instead of giving money away to bars. 

      How about an academy to train nail technicians and hair stylists around the intersection of Howard/Ridge?   LOL… Sorry, bad joke.

      1. Lets evaluate this as a social service not economic develop…..

        This should have been treated as a social service, not as economic development.  It seems to me the city is already providing taxpayer money to a Youth job center.  We also have programs at the High School for kids to be trained in this area, if I am not mistaken. 

        I realize once our council members give our tax dollars away, they keep on giving.   As I recall wasn't there an ice cream shop openned in the down town with a similar purpose? jobs for kids, I know it is now closed, I do not remember if any taxpayer dollars went to it.

        The council did not want "felony Franks" here, they are in denial that any former criminals exist in town. They did not want to give them money to come here.

        I am not against Curt's in any way.  I just to do not the fact, the city continues to give money away, with little real homework and analysis.  If the other programs are not working then the funding needs to come from them, stop funding them. If this is a better concept?  By the way, why can't any food business, hire kids and put them in a training  program? I am not clear on the concept, other than its like " felony Franks" the business is not to provide food but it has a social component.

        If this is a social program treat it as such, take it out of economic development and judge it on its value to train the maximum number of kids for the least taxpayer dollar, which we don't appear to do now anyway.

        1. that makes sense

          Yes- that makes sense-

           I agree that Felony Franks should have been allowed to open too- I watched a few videos that pictured other felony franks locations. ONe video interviewed the workers. They didn't seem to feel that the shop glamorized crime. Quite the contrary, they were just happy to be able to get a job and to move on from their past..

          I'm not clear on why people think the city has to spend tax money for economic development in the first place. What sort of pixie dust do our government officials sprinkle to make the money grow?  Do people believe that a few elected officials are in a better place to decide which businesses can be successful over the individuals voting with the money in their pocketbook? 

          But then again, Jan Shakowsky seems to think that the federal government has a multiplier effect on tax payer money too-

          It would make more sense to me to mostly eliminate the economic development money, and increase  social services funding instead, for things exactly like Curt's.  

          Let the market decide which businesses should open, and let the government decide how to best redistribute the wealth to pay for social programs to improve the education/protection/mobility of our community.

          Whatever fund the money comes from, I still think that curt's is a worthy way to spend money.



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