The Alzenia Project x Curt’s Café: Fostering Bright Futures for Determined Youths - Cynthia Plouché & Susan Treischmann

Talking Trends
4 min readDec 14, 2023

Oftentimes, what stands between an at-risk student and a positive future is the opportunity to begin their career — one café provides youths like these the resources they need to break out of the cyclical nature of homelessness and incarceration. The Alzenia Project is committed to providing opportunities for education, financial literacy, and mentoring in order to create access to self-fulfillment and positive impacts for girls and women across the country; we are passionate about connecting people and ideas, and part of our mission is to support organizations that share the same values as we do. One such organization that has become one of our grantees is Curt’s Café, a coffee shop and restaurant that enrolls 15–24 year old at-risk or homeless youths as student-trainees, teaches and mentors them in developing crucial life skills, and assists them with finding employment and transitioning into a full-time job. I sat down with the founder of Curt’s Café, Susan Trieschmann, to discuss their organization’s mission and our partnership.

Curt’s Café is committed to providing at-risk youths an opportunity to learn marketable skills and secure employment, which will greatly contribute towards their success. When I asked how she came up with the idea for Curt’s Café, Susan described the man this organization is named after: “Kurt, my brother-in-law, came into our lives when I was about 15 — he was just one of those genuinely kind and thoughtful men who wrote everyone birthday cards and took the kids in the neighborhood with him to work as a baseball coach. We named ‘Curt’s Café’ after him to preserve his memory and create a legacy after his kindness.” She also thought back to her first business that she ran with her sister and Kurt, Food for Thought, “We started with $300 and a minivan — none of us had a college education, but we had great work ethic. Today, it’s one of the top three caterers in Chicago, run by my little brother.”

Years later, Susan learns about the Pre-K to Prison pipeline and the cyclical nature of youth incarceration — because many youths aren’t set up for success in school due to their socioeconomic background, they’re repeatedly forced to turn to crime as a way to survive. Speaking to incarcerated youths helped Susan not only develop the idea for Curt’s Café, but create its business plan, “I put the restaurants where the kids told me to — I ran the entire program based on what these young men and women who have come out of prison advised me to do. We planned out the classes that our student-trainees would undertake, as well as their work hours and stipend payments.” It makes sense to collaborate like so — nobody is more well-informed on how to help at-risk youths than those who were at-risk themselves. Today, Curt’s Café has two locations, each of which teaches valuable life skills, intellectual skills, food service skills, and experiential skills to more than thirty students a year, bringing them out of the cycle of incarceration and further into a bright future.

Susan and I are both passionate about giving youths a second chance and providing them opportunities of self-fulfillment and positive change through education, inclusion, and mentoring. As such, it’s no wonder why the Alzenia Project chose Curt’s Café as one of our beneficiaries. I asked Susan what this partnership meant to her: “It means a trusting relationship and great leadership — the Alzenia Project’s involvement brings a lot of hope to our community.” The Alzenia Project and Curt’s Café’s joint focus on developing young adults to their highest potentials will bring so many youths the opportunity to move forward and develop a positive, productive future.

To learn more about Curt’s Cafe, contact Malik Kemokai, Executive Director malik@curtscafe.org.

To meet other Alzenia Project grantees, visit the Alzenia Project website, or to get involved, connect with Cynthia Plouché on LinkedIn.

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