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.

Chicken and Waffles Façade Grant Approved

Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles received a $5,800 façade improvement grant from City Council on  Dec. 10, bringing the project nearly to a close. The façade has already been completed, and the restaurant is slated to open by year end. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, called the request a good example of the City’s façade-improvement policy. “If something is there that wasn’t before, then you are doing economic development,” she said.Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, disagreed. “I’ll obviously be voting no on this,” she said. “Again, a business gets in trouble and they’re back here asking for more money.”  She then demanded a detailed construction budget, saying that Paul Zalmazek of the City’s economic development staff had not produced it. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she “had a problem” with including the façade in the initial budget, then asking for a façade grant after construction was completed. Picking up on that theme, Ald. Burrus called the request “double dipping,” adding, “We can’t keep saying yes to every business that shows up with a good story. This body has to say ‘no.’”Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, speaking about both Chicken and Waffles and Curt’s Café, reacted by saying, “I don’t mind us having questions [about projects but] we begin to feel unfriendly.” These are businesses “wanting to come into our community,” she said, adding that the tone in Council is sometimes not welcoming. As for the façade-improvement request, Ald. Holmes said, “I don’t see how we have an issue with this.” She said that Alds. Burrus and Fiske were “getting it mixed up” in that the construction loan and the façade requests were completely separate issues. Alderman Peter Braithewaite, 2nd Ward, agreed, saying, “I, too, am very concerned with the tone and language used toward a business looking to come into our community. He then read from the City’s website the rules for façade improvement requests. Council voted 7-2 in favor of the grant request.