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On Dec. 10, Curt’s Café, the Central Street restaurant that Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam says has “become a buzzword in the community,” received a $15,000 economic development loan specifically earmarked to upgrade its kitchen. But an additional $21,332 grant to the Youth Job Center for training for a minimum of four “Evanston disconnected and unemployed young adult ex-offenders” was held back pending more detailed information about how it will be used.
Ald. Tendam said that since Curt’s Café opened this spring in the former Casteel Coffee space, it “has brought an entire community together in ways we’re not seeing. … It is one of the most lively, energetic and positive things going on in the community right now.”
The café, with its stated purpose of giving a second chance to young adults with criminal records or otherwise troubled pasts, is particularly meaningful and important given recent news of shootings and murder among Evanston youth said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. “We have a very unique opportunity to support a very unique business,” he said.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl voiced her support for the Café, joining a majority of Council in praising the business and its mission. “It’s going to be successful,” she said.
“It’s not,” said Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, showing that Council was not unanimous in supporting the project. Ald. Burrus castigated the project and the request for an economic development loan. Repeatedly, she accused the Café and its owner, Susan Trieschmann, of having an inadequate business plan, incomplete IRS not-for-profit status, and the failure to plan for construction contingencies. “That’s Business 101. … I’m not sure why the taxpayers should have to foot the bill,” she said.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said, “I just don’t think economic development is the route you should go to get your money,” she said.
“We’ve been asked to bail you out,” said Ald. Burrus, who voted in favor of a multi-year grant to for-profit business Now We’re Cookin’ and a $130,000 loan to the Ward 8 wine bar. Ald. Burrus’s “critique of Ms. Trieshmann, and a Curt’s Café that Council and the public overwhelmingly support, continued to be withering and harsh. “If your fundraising is so robust, why are you here?” she asked. “A good idea is just not enough.”
Ald. Burrus was all but alone. Council members and residents lined up to praise Curt’s Café, eventually drowning out Ald. Burrus’s continuing criticism. “It would be a horrible shame not to support” Curt’s Café, said Ald. Tendam.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked how much the café needed for its new kitchen. The figure, $15,000, was almost $6,000 more than requested by staff. Council moved to amend the loan amount to fully cover the cost of the kitchen. The vote was 8-1.
Job training funds will have to wait, however. Ald. Rainey objected to allocating the funds without a clearer understanding of the plan for their use. That portion of the proposal was put on hold awaiting further information.