Evanston’s Economic Development Committee voted Wednesday night to provide a $21,000 city grant to Curt’s Cafe, a non-profit program that provides job training to young ex-offenders and other troubled youths.

The program, located at 2922 Central St., would receive $3,000 for each of seven Evanston youths who complete the training program and are placed in jobs within 30 days thereafter.

At the request of Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, the terms of the grant were amended to require that the trainees hang onto the jobs they are placed in for a period of time to be specified by city staff — perhaps a month — before the program could collect the city money.

Aldermen on the committee disagreed about how rigid to make the job retention requirement.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said 30 days “seems reasonable” but suggested “pursuing a job” should be sufficient.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that she had five different jobs one summer when she was young, and setting a requirement for how long the program graduates stayed in a particular job might be too restrictive.

And Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, noting that many of the youths involved were likely to be involved in more criminal activity if they didn’t get the training, suggested a flexible approach. “What would have happened to these youths if they hadn’t connected with Curt’s Cafe?” Grover asked.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “Let’s not forget who this population is. For them to get through the whole training cycle itself is pretty impressive.”

“We should have some other language, that if they’re not placed in jobs, they are continuing to seek employment.,” Holmes said. “Some of them are difficult to place,” she added.

The proposal now goes to the full City Council for action.

Top: An image from the Curt’s Cafe website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Let Curt’s Cafe make it on its own

    If Curt's Cafe is rewarded with taxpayer money for how many ex-cons get and keep jobs then will there be a punishment if one of the ex-cons goes off track and commits a crime? Say, $3,000 must be paid back to the city for each ex-con gone wrong.

    I speak of Donzell Mintz who worked at Curt's Cafe and was arrested this week on charges he beat and sexually assaulted a 14-year-old runaway and forced her into prostitution and drug dealing. Mintz broke her jaw and several teeth and the girl needed surgery. Mintz is from Chicago's south side and he was on parole for a 2011 aggravated battery conviction when he came to Evanston one month after his prison release. It's the kind of stuff that makes you lose your appetitie to eat a sandwich made by an ex-con.

    Curt's Cafe claims it hires ex-cons from Evanston. But Mintz lived in and was arrested in Chicago. Surely, Curt's must have known Mintz wasn't a local. How did Mintz, one month out of jail, get money and land an apartment at 133 Ashland in Evanston? I would presume if Mintz had a roommate that person would have known what was going on. One of the stipulations of this grant proposal is that the youth served must be from Evanston. How will that be monitored?

    Someone on this board said what does it matter if Mintz is from Chicago. It matters because gangbangers or wannabes are territorial and if you mix them there likely will be serious problems. Plus, Mintz probably networked his Chicago bad boys with the newly acquainted Evanston bad boys. Why would Evanston want Chicago's problems? I am uneasy now knowing someone capable of prostituting and severely beating a 14 year old girl and dealing drugs is working down the street from me and my family on the city dime. 

    If Felony Franks was rejected by the 2nd ward then why is Curt's Cafe so good for the 6th ward? They both give jobs and training to ex-cons.

    It is interesting that the owners of Curt's Cafe strongly supported Tendam and Tisdahl's campaign in the last election.

    Last year, Curt's Cafe received a $15,000 loan from Evanston (before the election) when it didn't yet have non-profit status and owed $17,000 in back taxes. (Curt's now does have non-profit status and is up to date on the taxes).  Evanston Community Foundation gave Curt's a grant (not sure how much). And now our elected leaders voted to give Curt's Cafe a $21,000 grant. How much money does this place need?

    I do like what Curt's Cafe is doing but now I have serious doubts especially when our elected leaders are shoveling tens of thousands of tax dollars to this joint. How are these ex-cons monitored and who monitors them? Who's tracking these dudes? And who are these people that could commit such despicable acts that Mintz is accused of? 

    Let Curt's Cafe make it on its own without city tax dollars. How about rewarding people who do the right thing. Lowering our tax rate would be a good start.

  2. Curts Cafe is an amazing place

    It's easy to let fear let some point the finger at Curt's and blame them for what has happened to this young girl.     Instead, turn the finger on the perpetrator of the crime.    Susan at Curt's reached out to help Mintz, and he made a terrible choice.         Curt's is an amazing place that I'm proud to have in my neighborhood.  I'm glad the city is providing them with assistance financially. I don't support funding businesses for "economic development," but Curts is providing a way for troubled youth to have a future.  I support my taxes being used for this.  I bring my own children to Curt's frequently, and I feel that this place and the people inside are no threat to me or to Evanston.  To anyone who thinks that blocking places like Curt's is going to keep down crime rates, you need to leave your bubble.   Opportunities like this are one of the only ways out of crime.   It's just harder to ignore the real world when it's put into your face.   WElcome to reality lululemmon latte crowd.  It's a bitch, isn't it!?

    1. Curt’s Cafe has no business taking FREE city money


      If Mintz is guilty he didn't make a terrible choice. He made a despicable evil choice. Just ask his 14 year old victim. There's a difference. And it wasn't his first.time.

      If you read his NPR interview, Mintz, from Chicago's south side, decided to go out and rob someone because he got into a fight with his "sister's baby father" and she kicked him out of the house.

      There are tons of ex con work programs all over Chicago, including numerous church programs. Why should Evanston spend tax dollars to pay for bad boys from Chicago's south side? I wonder if Chicago officials are sending their bad boys to Evanston and other suburbs to get them out of the city, using affordable housing and ex con programs. Curt's should have known Mintz is not a local

      Curt's Cafe might be an amazing place but it should raise money through fundraisers and donations and not suck on the city teat. To the best of my knowledge, the Community Builders of Evanston, a program aimed at educating Evanston's young adults as construction workers and employing those who have trouble finding work due to criminal records and incomplete education, never asked the city for a loan or grant. Neither should Curt's Cafe. BTW – construction trades is a much more marketable skill than making sandwiches.

      But it's funny how those politically connected in Evanston's overabundant non-profit community get the bacon. I should say, our bacon, because we pay more of it every year.

      1. to anoymous1 and AL-

        All good points you both make.     Data on where the recipients of Curt's cafe services reside, as well as points about other non-profit work programs not getting tax dollars.  I have never heard of Community Builders of Evanston, but I would agree that learning a construction trade is equally good if not better than the restaurant business depending on the housing market.  I would also agree that if local tax dollars are used, the recipients should come from Evanston.   If privately funded, then Curt's can hire whoever they chose.                                     I'm not going to put any blame on Curt's Cafe though for hiring MIntz, but I do agree with Al that his crime was horrendous.  As long as there is free will, not even the best teachers can save every child.  That doesn't mean we give up.     .                                                                                                                                                Personally, I would rather have my local tax money go to these sorts of programs in lieu of economic development money to bars, restaurants, and facade programs.  I'm all for government offering training and education to help people learn how to be productive members of society..  It costs $43,000 to house a prisoner in federal prison.  If we can keep people out of prison by giving them hope for an alternative to crime, it is better for the individual and better for society. 

        1. Hand up not hand out


          I agree that government has its place helping those who need a hand up not a hand out.

          But it's not our responsibility to keep people out of prison. If the concern is the cost of prison then consider it can be a lot less expensive than it is in Illinois. There are models that prove it. Arizona's infamous Sheriff Joe has successfully run a cost effective prison tent city for two decades at a fraction of the cost of a typical prison.

          I lean toward the school of hard knocks. If you do the crime you do ALL the time, wearing pink pajamas, shivering in prison tents and breaking sweat in chain gangs. It's too bad many judges give lenient sentences as politicians look for ways to reduce prison time due to overcrowding.

          Violent crime should be met head on with serious time.

          1. Productive society members better than jailed ones

            Violent crimes should be met with serious time.  BUt most first time offenders are not in jail for violent crimes. They are in for drugs- 48% of all prisoners are in for drug crimes, with only 7.6% in for violent crimes.     If you look to this longitidinal study here on prison statistics, you'll see that one of the factors that increases the likelyhood of return to jail is difficulty finding a job,  with job training programs having a significantly positive impact and reduction in re-conviction rates.                                                                                                                                                                                             I would argue that prison IS a problem of our society that needs the attention of all of us.  The US has the higest rate of incarceration in the world, with black males being 6 times more likely to be in jail than white males.  I would disagree with you that running cheaper prisons is a solution, as this is done by privatization.  While I largely agree that the private sector is more efficient for most things, I believe the prison system should not be in the profit-making sector for moral and ethical reasons.    Looking at Arizona specifically, the  private prisons don't have government oversight.  According to this report here, In the past three years, private prisons have experienced at least  28 riots and 200 other disturbances involving as many as 50 prisoners. Many of these incidents have not been reported to the public.  State law doesn't require the six federal prisons that hold detainees and prisoners from other states to inform state or local authorities in the event of an escape, a riot, or other disturbance, or a death in custody."                                                                                                                                                                               LOok at the top rates of prisoners by country.  IN the US, we put more people per  100,000 in prison than Cuba and Rwanda- 716 people per 100,000 go to jail in the US.  By comparison, look at the rates of some other first world countries- Singapore at 230, Switzerland at 82, Germany at 79, Sweden 67, Japan 54 per 100,000.     As a nation, we must do better.  Susan Triechman is leading the way in this town, and kudos to her for trying.   She has my support and I'm glad to share my hard-earned money with her.  

          2. Bad argument

            "The US has the higest rate of incarceration in the world, with black males being 6 times more likely to be in jail than white males."


            The statistic is irrelevant by itself.  As is the proportion or use of blacks of the population.

            IF a group commits more crime than others, they will be more likely to end in jail/prison.  The relevant comparison would be percent of blacks in prison of those blacks who commit a crime. Then you can compare to white, Hispanic or Asian proportions.

            If you want to argue sociologically from income, family background, etc. that is a different argument.  However it leads to the charge of is there something inherent, good or bad, by race, ethnic background, etc. that differentiates morals, intellect, judgement, etc.—an argument I doubt you want to make.

          3. African Americans sent to jail disproportionately for drug use-

            According to the NAACP statistics here, 14 million whites and 2.6 million African Americans  report using some form of illicit drugs, so 5 times as many whites report using drugs.  However, African Americans are sent to jail at 10 times the rate of whites for drug offenses. African Americans represent 12% of drug users, but are 38% of those arrested for drugs and 59% of those in federal prisons for drug use.    So in fact, it appears that the white population is committing more of the drug crimes, yet they are not more likely to end in jail. 

          4. But which ones ?

            I don't approve of any drugs but the city of Evanston has made it clear that they condone [wink] at marijuana so they must not consider that o.k..  If your stats are correct, and given the source's record doubtful if not by 'fact' then by bias, are the 'white' drugs marijuana which cities and states wink at ?

            Is the use of 'drugs' the only reason the person is put in jail ?  I.e. IF a white person is arrested for smoking one marijuana joint [14 nillion] and a black person is arrested for a violent crime and had marijuana or heroin [2.6 million] on them is the drug charge also part of the record as the stated reason why they are in jail despite the violent crime really the reason the court sited ?

            The most serious crime should be noted as the reason for being in jail.  Of course with government support more will take drugs [marijuana] but then the city/state won't prosecute or will let them off.

          5. Wait a minute…

            IF a white person is arrested for smoking one marijuana joint [14 nillion] and a black person is arrested for a violent crime and had marijuana or heroin [2.6 million] on them

            Why was the black person in your example a violent offendor, and had heroin while the white person in your example smoked a single joint a la Bill Clinton?

            From what i've read, Curt's Cafe employs young offendors, not strictly violent offendors, and commentor Jen was pointing out that blacks are sent to prison at higher rates than whites after committing the same offense. That means that if a person is caught smoking weed and they are white, they are significantly less likely to be 1) charged with a crime, 2) convicted of that crime and 3) sent to prison for that crime. In other words, when a white person is caught with a joint, the police think that they are smoking a joint, a la Bill Clinton, and when a black person is caught with a joint, the police think they are violent hard drug users, just like you presented in your example.

            Here are the facts, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics: Blacks and Whites smoke pot at very similar proportions of their respective populations (differences are statistically negligible). BUT! Blacks are more likely than whites to be charged, convicted, and sent to prison for committing the same crime that a white person just committed.  No extenuating circumstances. No violent crime involvement. No heroin.

          6. Prior convictions

            The link you provided is an advocacy website opposing the war on drugs. Not exactly an unbiased source.

            Neither you nor the data provided on this link addresses a key problem with your argument that everything equal blacks are jailed more than whites on drug convictions. The problem?

            There is no data provided to adjust for prior convictions. How much you wanna bet that blacks in general have more prior convictions during sentencing on drug convictions than whites, hispanics, etc.? Details, details, details. Who needs details.

          7. Not All Black People Are Criminals

            First, I'm reasonably certain that the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which this "advocacy website" links to in great depth, is using the standard scientific tools of measurement when analyzing their data. They absolutely controlled for variables like prior convictions and age.

            Second – black people aren't born with prior convictions. That means that there are black people out there for whom getting in trouble for smoking a single joint would be a first time offense. You're making it sound like every black person walks out of their mother's womb with heroin in the pockets of their saggy jeans and a rap sheet. Which (and I can't believe I have to say this) IS NOT TRUE. Not all black people are criminals.

            So, back at you – please, cite your sources. "Blacks in general have more prior convictions during sentencing on drug convictions…"? Prove it. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a source.


          8. Making it illegal isn’t helping anyone.

            This conversation has gone quite off topic from where it started, but I"m game with that.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I'm not quite sure why Anon. Al and the other poster here are arguing that african americans are being put into jail with with equal proportion to the "white" population committing the same drug crimes. They are not. THey receive more jail time for the exact same drug crimes . IN the state of California, legislators are trying to change the law right now to put people into rehab instead of into jail in response to these statistics.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The question is- why do we even need a law to protect us from ourselves?      As long as your actions don't impact others, why can you not do what you want to your own body?   Like prohibition, the war on drugs is not working and our african american population is suffering because of it.   I would argue that our society is suffering because of these laws, with our prison rates and cost of prisons being proof of this. 

          9. Myths of the ‘Racist’ Criminal Justice System

            Your post is so over the top I wanted to just ignore it. But ….

            I never said or implied all blacks are criminals. That thought never ocurred to me but it did to you. Interesting. You and Jen are advancing the agenda of racial activists. In 2006, blacks were 37.5 percent of the 1,274,600 state prisoners. If you remove drug prisoners from that population, the percentage of black prisoners drops to 37 percent—half of a percentage point, hardly a significant difference.

            I will let these two articles I linked make my case.



          10. Wonder what happened to these winnetka kids caught selling drugs

            AL- Why are you so adament that blacks are not unequally imprisoned?    I do not blame police officers. Perhaps african americans are using drugs in public more, where as the white population is more covert in their use and purchasing of illegal drugs leading them to get busted less?    I have  no idea.                                                                                                                                                          I also wonder what happened to these winnetka kids caught running a drug dealing ring.      Did they do some time in jail?   If one of their daddy's wasn't a judge on the specialty drug board at SKokie Public court house, would their sentences be larger for felony possession of marijuana?   

          11. Wait another minute……….

            I looked through the  Bureau of Justice Statistics report you mention. I failed to see  the name of  drug  those arrested had or were using. Did you read the report Morgan? You do know theres more then one RIGHT?

          12. Have some more.

            I did read the report, but I wanted to only link you to one since there is OVERWHELMING evidence on this subject and I didn't think it would be a point of contention.

            Want more studies? The real ones are behind paywalls, but try this: If you can't access it, HuffPo summarizes here:

            Or this one from the NYT:

            Or this more recent one from Wonkbook:

            Really, I could do this all day. What you're trying to say is that, it's not the police or the justice system or any institutionalized bias. Black people aren't more likely to get pulled over; not more likely to get stopped and frisked, not more likely to be convicted. It's just that they're all criminals.


          13. Don’t like to be questioned?

            You throw out the  Bureau of Justice Statistics and didn't expect anyone to look at them. thoughshould just take you word for it huh Morgan? You always put words in people months or just think everyone should believe its true since you said it?

    2. Curt’s Cafe data would help scope whether there’s a problem

      I don't live near Curt's Cafe and know only what has been in the newspapers about the work that it does, as well as the recent horrific crimes allegedly committed by someone who left Chicago and moved to Evanston for a job at Curt's Cafe.  Good mission but there are legitimate questions that, I believe, data from Curt's Cafe would help address.

      As I read the comments, some people are concerned about ex-offenders moving here specifically to work at Curt's Cafe for two reasons:  (1) given funding by the City, shouldn't people already living in Evanston have priority (or exclusivity) over those who live outside the city; and (2) are we increasing the Evanston crime rate by having a business (funded in part by money from Evanston taxpayers) encouraging more people already convicted of crimes to move to Evanston?

      As an investor in Curt's Cafe (as a taxpayer in the City of Evanston), I suggest that data from Curt's Cafe would help address people's concerns. For example, Curt's Cafe could inform the City publicly every quarter on the following data for that quarter:

      1.  How many people work at Curt's Cafe?  How many of those people are ex-offenders?

      2.  How many people working at Curt's Cafe who are also ex-offenders lived in Evanston on the date that they committed their most recent crime?  How many of them lived in Evanston at least six months before applying at Curt's Cafe?

      3.  How many people working at Curt's Cafe who are also ex-offenders have been accused of a crime in any jurisdiction in the quarter at issue?  How many of them are awaiting trial?  How many of them have been convicted of another crime while working at Curt's Cafe? How many of them are awaiting sentencing but are still working at Curt's Cafe?  How many of them took a plea deal but are still working at Curt's Cafe?  For each person accused of a crime or convicted of crime that took place while the person was working at Curt's Cafe, provide details such as the charges, the jurisdiction and the date(s).

      I would like the data from Curt's Cafe to understand how this operation, having received City funding, is serving Evanston residents and whether there is a problem with recidivism by those working there. Shine a light on the facts and then let's see what, if anything, needs to be done.

      I am not taking a position as I don't have the facts yet.  But I'd like to see the facts so the City and its residents can decide whether there is a problem or not.

  3. Curt’s – Who’s in charge?

    If the Economic Development Committee is going to recommend that taxpayer money be spent on this venture then they really should provide better oversight.  It seems to be a very disorganized, hand to mouth kind of operation – very unprofessional.  If they need grants, write them some grant applications.  If they need accounting help, let the city's professionals take over.  It seems as if no one is really in charge and taking responsibility.  Is there a business plan?  The idea is great in principle but the devil is in the details – the city should be all in or get out – this throwing good money after bad is ridiculous.  

  4. Businesses train employees

    Since Evanston's Economic Development Committee thinks Curts should get $3000 for training its employees. Shouldn't all the other businesses in Evanston that hire new inexperieced employees get $3000 per employee also? Especially if they have a seedy background.

    1. Was analysis done ? Going concern ?

      I am not in favor of adding costs to any business but Curt's business seems to have an extra layer to cause concern as to whether it can be a 'going concern.'

      They and really all businesses the Council wants to fund or make gifts to, should be required to present an ecconomic and accouting analysis that it prepared or carefully reviewed by an  independent business analyst, account and  lawyer.  Curt's certainly needs these and more than most the legal analysis of their liability if an employee commits a crime on or off the premises.  Also what is the taxpayer liability ?  The Council can approve loans/gifts but it is the taxpayer who foots the bill if a crime is committed since they funded the enterprise.

      This analysis should apply to all business, city supported or not, but Curt's is probably an example of the type that requires extra analysis.

  5. I’m not sure

    One the one hand, I think the "war on  drugs" has generated a lot of unnecessary jailings. Silly, stupid things and these folks should get a hand. However, violent offenders….not so much. I applaud those who want to help ex-offenders and think it would be great of them to donate to Curt's but I'm just not sure it's the role of the city to do so.

    The comment about Felony Franks is a good one. How can we accept (and fund) one of these and not the other? Seems a bit odd, doesn't it?

    The city council needs to do some self-analysis – what do we want to be here? Do we want to fund things like Curt's and Section 8 housing or do we want to be a retail hub or all of these things? If all, it's gonna cost and cost and cost and cost.

    1. Drug use is linked to crime

      It's simple.

      If you want to reduce crime then you need to target drug use. Why? Every study, including the federal government, shows that people who do drugs are more likely to do crime. The U.S. drug czar this year announced that drugs, including marijuana, are linked to crime. (see first link).

      It's alarming to me that Evanston reduced it's penalties on marijauana. If you're caught with 10 grams or less of pot you will be issued a ticket to appear before a city administrative hearing officer, rather than having the violation prosecuted as a criminal matter in Skokie district court. The city did this to get more revenue.

      Vernon Clark, associate principal of educational services at Evanston Township High School, publicly testified that kids caught with "a small amount" of pot in school are disciplined but not reported to police. I guess ETHS is a pot sanctuary.

      Just think about all the crime that never happened because of the War on Drugs.

      1. You wrote: “Every study,

        You wrote: "Every study, including the federal government, shows that people who do drugs are more likely to do crime."

        You're confusing a soft drug like marijuana ("soft" is a term used in pot-tolerant Amsterdam) with hard drugs like crack, cocaine, and heroin, which cause intense addictions that lead to crime. 

        Since you appear stuck in either the Nancy ("Don't Do Drugs!) Reagan and "Reefer Madness" era, please note the following current trends regarding marijuana: 

        1. Marijuana is now legal in the states of Washington and Colorado for recreational use. It is also legal in Portugal. It is not legal in The Netherlands, but tolerated for being "harmless."

        2. Medical marijuana (its consumption greatly relieves the side effects of chemotherapy) is available to patients in several states, include notoriously "Red" Arizona and soon in Illinois.

        3. People, like Mayor Tisdahl and Vernon Clark and many Evanstonians, now realize the ridiculousness of arresting people for small amounts of marijuana (such cases are typically dismissed anyway), and for saddling them with a lifelong criminal record because they got caught smoking it.

        That stated, I can certainly assure you all those cancer patients experiencing great relief from pain and nausea due to medical marijuana use won't start robbing banks. 

      2. Tautological Argument

        1) I would really like to see your sources on the "every study …. shows that people who do drugs are more likely to commit crime" argument. But, let's take it at face value.

        2) Using illegal drugs is a crime. Therefore, people who use illegal drugs… have committed a crime. That's a tautological argument.

        3) Correlation does not equal causation. Lots of things correlate. For example, the price of bananas correlates to the proportion of smokers in the US.

        4) We have real world examples showing that decriminalization results in significantly lower drug use.

        5) There are some drugs more associated with crime, like alcohol, heroin, etc. because of the behaviors they provoke (lowered inhibitions, aggression, recklessness). Or the people who choose to use those drugs are more susceptible to those behaviors in the first place. But other drugs – prozac, viagra, nicotine, marijuana – do not have the same correlation to criminal behavior. And there is no proof that illegal drug use causes criminal activity, outside of the original tautological argument.

        6) If you want to reduce crime then you need to impose greater controls on corporations and markets and the individuals operating within those structures. Oh, wait… you mean the crimes that poor people tend to be convicted of (notice I didn't say commit, because the wealthy also use drugs but are less likely to go to jail for it). Well. If you want to reduce those crimes, maybe some job creation is in order. Like Curt's Cafe.

        1. Now we know who’s to blame

          I was waiting for this.

          Finally, after all the banter around pot, whites, blacks, stats and prison, we finally arrive at who is to blame for the issues facing the black community, and this kid from Curt's Cafe…

          It's the corporations, the free market, and the wealthy.



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