GrandLo Café, a “new social enterprise” from nonprofit Grand St. Settlement, will turn your daily coffee habit into a chance to support disadvantaged youth. The coffee shop and café, which held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 16 after a soft opening that same week, is now fully open for business.
GrandLo aims to create career pathways (leading to “meaningful employment”) for low-income or otherwise disadvantaged New York City youth through a job training program based in the café. Participants in the program will work shifts at the café, learning customer service and barista skills through a mix of hands-on experience and off-site training sessions, according to Clovis Thorn, director of development and communications at Grand St. Settlement. “Our goal with the program is to help lower or remove barriers to permanent employment,” Thorn said in an interview. “We really see ourselves as a bridge towards jobs… for kids in the community.”
The training program is based on a café model from Catalyst Kitchens, a group of social entrepreneurs who’ve developed job-training curriculum designed to break cycles of poverty and unemployment. Their programs, Thorn explained, generally have a graduation rate of 85%. Participants in the GrandLo job program will graduate with a barista certification from Counter Culture coffee (the café’s supplier) and a New York State food handler’s license, “two concrete certifications, that can make them marketable in any food and beverage job,” according to Thanh Bui, managing director of youth and community development at Grand St. Settlement. And to further support the participants, the program at GrandLo will offer wraparound services such as referrals for childcare, housing, education, and a year’s worth of job support after their successful completion of the program.
A coffee shop might seem like an unorthodox choice for a job-training program, but as Adam Perez, manager of the GrandLo Café, explains, “specialty coffee is a huge sector that’s growing. I think it’s great for entry-level [jobs], because the barriers aren’t as high.” Perez calls the skills participants will learn– namely customer service and barista training– “very transferrable” in the current workforce climate.
Proceeds from the café will go directly into supporting the business, “with the net proceeds reinvested back into the café and the job training program,” Thorn explained. He admits that “the job training program isn’t cheap,” estimating that it costs about $4000 for each participant to complete the program and find subsequent job placement. However, a press release from the café’s opening was quick to stress that the taxpayer cost for two months of incarceration at Riker’s Island was $18,000; a study from the New York City Independent Budget Office in 2013 estimated that “the average annual cost per inmate in 2012 was $167,731.”
Funding for the café was provided by Deutsche Bank, the Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Memorial Foundation, and Wells Fargo, in addition to nearly $28,000 raised via Kickstarter. The space was donated by the developers of Essex Crossing, the ongoing Lower East Side megadevelopment which also includes a significant amount of affordable housing.
Perez, who grew up in the Lower East Side, said he’s seen some “big changes” in the neighborhood recently. “But with big changes come [either] opportunity or lack of opportunity,” he explained. “You can price people out, and it can be that kind of scene. Or you can have establishments like this come in and provide a pathway, a meeting space, a communal space, and it can fulfill a lot of different things while positively impacting lives. Running it like any other cafe, but with a purpose.”
Thorn echoed this statement. “I really see the GrandLo Café as being a bridge between the old neighborhood– people who have lived here for generations– and the new neighborhood.”
Correction, April 1: The original version of this story misstated the name of Essex Crossing.