Cafe Celebrates Grand Opening

The 12 employees of the Perk Center Cafe celebrated a grand opening event June 6 with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Perk Center Cafe, located in the Glenview Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave., was created by a group of families dedicated to providing a better quality of life for those with developmental disabibities.

The cafe's goals are to provide employment, volunteer and vocational training opportunilies to individuals with developmental clisabilities, to offer good quality food to customers, to build positive relationships in the community and to serve as a model to others who might wish to create businesses for the purpose of employment of people with disabilities.

The event included remarks by park district and local officials as well as entertainment as everyone sampled some of the menu items.

Glenview's Perk Center Café serves coffee, experience

Model also popular in Highland Park and Deerfield

By Deborah Ziff, Special to the Tribune 12:02 p.m. CDT, October 28, 2013

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Avi Lesser takes his station behind the cash register of the Perk Center Café inside the Glenview Park Center, greeting customers by name and doling out trivia.

He knows them, and they know him.

"Her name is D-O-R-I-S," the 26-year-old spells out, as Doris Frank stops by for a coffee and a cookie, her usual before a duplicate bridge game on Tuesdays. With her snack and change, he delivers a factoid.

"A lot of people in Great Britain are named Doris," he tells her.

"Avi's quite the local celebrity," said Jon Larson, a manager at the Perk Center Café.

As the café hits its fifth anniversary this fall, it's the employees who keep customers coming back as much as the sandwiches and hot coffee. The kiosk employs about 20 adults with a range of developmental disabilities, paying them minimum wage and giving them on-the-job training.  

"It's just very nice," said Frank. "I always talk to the people, Avi and the others."

The café fills dual roles -- it provides a job and a paycheck for adults with disabilities – and serves food and drink where a for-profit retail business likely couldn't survive.

The model is so successful that it has spawned at least two replicas in the North Shore: the Best Futures Café at Highland Park Centennial Ice Arena and the Beit Café at B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim Synagogue in Deerfield.

A group of parents with special needs children started the Perk Center Café in 2008, forming a non-profit so they could take donations to help keep the business afloat. Other concession stands tried and failed where this one is succeeding, said Gail Metrick, a co-founder of the cafe.

"You couldn't make money here," said Linda Schneider-Jesser, another co-founder. "It's not a destination. It's just a convenience for the people who come in and out."

Ellen Garber Bronfeld, whose son Noah has autism, followed the Perk's lead by opening up the café at the Highland Park ice arena with another group of parents. She and the others wanted a plan for their children when, as she put it, "the bus stops coming" at age 22, when they are too old for special education programs.

At the ice arena, shifts are typically short — only one to one-and-a-half hours — to give more people an opportunity to work.  

"It just drives us crazy and breaks our hearts," she said. "There are many more interested applicants than spots we can fill."

In its third season, the New Futures Café will start this year to serve as a training site for organizations that want to teach job skills, Bronfeld said.

Volunteers are crucial to keep the cafes running.

"Just like a regular business, we have to schedule people and make sure supplies are there," said Metrick, of the Park Center Café.

Because the employees have a range of skills — some can work the cash register while others wipe down tables or fetch orders — there's always a manager on duty, either a paid employee or a volunteer.

Eliot Padzensky, 17, a student at Deerfield High School, started volunteering nearly five years ago. He created the café's website, helped set up a way to take credit cards and works as a manager. He says there are a lot of programs for children with disabilities, but those opportunities become few and far between as adults.

"As an adult, for them to live a fulfilled meaningful life, it gets a lot more difficult," he said. "Perk Center Café gives them that opportunity. They can contribute to society and be a valued member of society."

Charlie Platt, of Lincolnshire, stops by to get a cup of coffee on a recent morning. Daniel Frownfelter, 34, who has Down syndrome, fills his order by using a coffee machine that pours coffee or lattes with just a touch of a button. That's a new innovation for the café this year.

Platt admits that he could get free coffee at the senior center, which is right next door. But instead, he visits the Perk Center Café.

"I like supporting them," he said.


Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Glenview cafe offers world of opportunity for workers

May 20, 2009|By Tara Malone, TRIBUNE REPORTER

A country-line dancer ordered an iced coffee for the road, an elderly couple stopped for a cup of chili and children still dripping from a nearby pool bought string cheese in one of Glenview's newest cafes.

There to serve them was a staff that sets this coffee shop apart from so many others.

At the Perk Center Cafe, more than half of the 16 workers have developmental disabilities that range from autism to Down syndrome and epilepsy. At the kiosk just inside the Glenview Park Center's doors, the coffee is almost an afterthought to the on-the-job training in preparation for life in the workforce. "I don't know much about coffee, but I think it's good," quipped Jacob Metrick, 18, who partnered with his mother, Gail, to create the cafe.

Jessica Boyd, 21, stopped in to interview for a job shortly after the cafe brewed its first pot of coffee in December. She loves cleaning -- sweeping or scrubbing, she'll do it all -- and was hired to help close the shop four afternoons a week.

One recent afternoon, Boyd studiously wiped the countertops, rearranging every creamer and sugar container to clean. She checked off the tasks on the 16-point list that awaits her daily. Then she moved on to the next job: cleaning the stainless steel refrigerators.

"I like the cleaning. I clean the glass, the boxes, the dishes," Boyd said shyly.

The idea for the Perk Center Cafe started brewing a year ago.

Metrick, a Glenbrook South High School senior, was leaving the fitness center when he noticed the coffee stand near the front entrance had closed. He mentioned to his mother that it would be a great place for people with developmental disabilities to work, thinking of his older sister with autism.

"I said, 'Oh no, that's way too much work,'" Gail Metrick recalled with a laugh.

But she and her son thought a coffee shop could offer job skills and income to young adults with developmental disabilities for whom state support ends on their 22nd birthday. That's when they age out of transition programs forming a bridge between high school and the adult world.

Employees are paid the minimum wage of $7.75 an hour.

"A lot of times people with developmental disabilities get put in the blind spot of the community," Metrick said. "This is sort of a passive approach to get people aware of the various challenges people have."

Just weeks after the idea surfaced, mother and son recruited friends with special needs children to the cause, drafted a proposal and presented their idea to the Glenview Park District board.

"It's like selling the blue sky," said Jason Herbster, the Park Center's director of recreation services. "There's no way to turn it down."

With that approval and a tax-identification number in hand, the Metricks raised money to cover the cost of renovating the cafe and making it accessible to those with a range of disabilities. First, though, they studied for the food sanitation certification that the state requires of all restaurateurs.

Creating a menu was one of the first challenges. They needed coffee and tea. Sandwiches and salads would be fresh and pre-packaged for the ease of all employees.

"Hot coffee is about as far as we go," Gail Metrick said.

An administrator at the center came up the name; a friend designed the logo; and on Dec. 10, the Perk Center Cafe opened for business.

Of the initial staff of six, two had developmental disabilities. Of the current staff of 16, all but the four managers have some type of cognitive impairment.

Each employee is paired with a task to suit his or her strengths.

Just as Jessica likes to clean, Julie Schneider, 24, of Northbrook, likes to restock coffee cups, lids and soup containers. From 1 to 2 p.m. every Thursday, she reports to work with her mother coaching her through the routine and offering a step-by-step approach to every task. This is her first paid job. And though she volunteers every morning at the Northbrook library, her mom Susan Schneidersaid this is different.

"She's diversifying," Susan Schneider said as she watched Julie stack a new supply of coffee cups. "The more skills she learns, the more capable she'll be to go into a volunteer position or possibly paid employment down the road."

Schneider then turned to her daughter, and they headed for the storage closet. The peanut butter supply needed replenishing.

Perk Center Serving up Great Food With a Side of Opportunity

The Perk Center Cafe held its grand opening on June 6 for a crowd of over 100 supporters, including Glenview Village President Keny Cummings, and Illinois State representatives Elizabeth Coulson and Elaine Nekritz.

Perk Center Cafe was conceived of by Jacob Metrick, the sibling of a young woman with autism. A user of Park Center Health aud Fitness, Jacob noticed that Park Center's previous food vendor had shut down. He proposed an idea that would fill the park district's desire to provide a quality food service for Park Center users and provide job training and employment for young adults with developmental disabilities. Perk Center Cafe became a reality with help from Jacob's mother, Gail Metrick and Linda Jesser along with Caryn Zelinger and Shari Coe.

Perk Center Cafe was built upon four main goals: to provide employment, volunteer, and vocational training opportunities to individuals with developmental disabilities; to offer good quality food to customers; to build positive relationships in the community; and to serve as model to others who might wish to create businesses for the purpose or employment of people with disabilities.

Conveniently located in Park Center's lobby, Perk Center Cafe serves up Seattle's Best coffee, breakfast, lunch, snacks, hot dogs, children's meals, slushics & energy drinks and more at prices that won't hurt your pocketbook.

Perk Center Cafe Fundraiser at California Pizza Kitchen

The Perk Center Cafe is a not-for-profit food service operation that employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the Park Center in Glenview. The Perk Cafe will receive 20% of dine-in and carry out orders at California Pizza Kitchen from June 4-June 7th at their Northbrook Court, Old Orchard and Downtown Chicago locations. You must mention the event and have a flier with the details in order for your check amount to be added to the fundraiser. Perk employees are working in the community and developing self esteem and job skills in addition to communicating with customres on a day to day basis. Please visit to download a flier to bring with you when you visit California Pizza Kitchen thr first week of June.