A Second Chance at Curt's Cafe

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

Susan Trieschmann, a northwest Chicago café owner took a big leap of faith when she renovated her for-profit business into a non-profit reentry program for young adult ex-offenders. The second chance café is an experimental restorative justice restaurant. Initially the neighbors were skeptical about offenders pouring their morning coffee.  But it only took the community three weeks to trust the stigmatized employees to serve them the blue plate specials. Today you will find customers on Central Street lined up at the counter during the noon hour waiting for lunch to be served by the transformed ex-offenders.  Curt's Cafe / Photo courtesy ecowren.net

Curt’s Café is a solo act in a city that only provides reentry programs for juvenile offenders. Chicago has hundreds of coffee shops, but only one restorative justice café that gives ex-offenders a second chance. The innovative reentry program requires the employees to form a restorative circle at the end of each eight hour shift to check on each other’s personal development and work skill progress.

Trieschmann’s idea for her restorative restaurant originated from a passion to help offenders reenter the workforce with employable skills. She emotionally explains that she doesn’t think it is fair how difficult it is for ex-offenders to become productive citizens when they re-enter the working world with a criminal record lingering in their past.

When the employees first started working at the café they barely knew how to make a cup of coffee and had difficulty making it to work on time. The ex-offenders have come a long way since they first began working at the café. They had many challenges to overcome, but persistence has paid off.

Trieschmann has fulfilled her need to provide training and work skills to ex-offenders by hiring them to work in her restaurant. The program is three months long and hires six employees at a time, so more ex-offenders have an opportunity to participate in the reentry program. 

The Moran Center for Youth Advocacy and the Youth Job Center are local organizations that refer at risk clients to Curt's Café for work experience.  Representatives from both agencies are enthusiastic about having a business willing to collaborate with them. 

Naria Santa Lucia, executive director of the Moran Center explains, "Trieschmann has a dream and vision about this place, so just on her sheer will alone, I know it will succeed. Having the opportunity to receive job training in a really nurturing place with a mission that is set up to serve exactly our clients with their specific needs is really, really needed."

Susan Trieschmann does not regret for one moment stepping up and making it happen.