blue sky Bakery and Cafe is tucked away on a residential street in Albany Park, and if it weren’t for the chalk sign the cafe puts out every morning, you’d walk right by it. blue sky is a quiet and small cafe, serving fair trade coffee and their own freshly baked goods, and by all appearances, there is nothing to distinguish this coffee shop from the other hundreds or so in Chicago. Don’t be fooled by its humble appearance; blue sky Cafe and Bakery is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that employs troubled and homeless youth in order to give them job training- so if you’ve been a lazy citizen lately, you can give back to the community just by having a cup of coffee. Simple and instant karma!
blue sky Inn began in 2000, with Lisa Thompson selling her baked goods at farmers markets by operating out of a shared kitchen. blue sky quickly gained a reputation for its freshly baked goods, and last year in May Thompson opened the cafe. Thompson’s original idea was to open an inn (hence the name), a 5 – 8 bedroom bed-and-breakfast that would employ youth as the cooks, gardeners, cleaners, but the investment wasn’t there. Thompson estimates she needs $500,000 to open the bed and breakfast, but because her organization is so small she cannot apply for state or federal grants. Despite a steady increase in business, the cafe is still a long way away from breaking even and still relies heavily on philanthropy.
I sat down with Lisa Thompson the other day, and asked her why she was shunning the capitalistic model. She laughed and said “opening the cafe was never the dream, creating a job environment and opportunities for youth was what I always wanted to do.” The cafe provides “more visibility to the program” than the farmers markets, and rehabilitating the youth in a cafe is perfect since it provides job opportunities in an employment niche “that isn’t concerned with criminal backgrounds” adds Thompson.
I think there are a lot of people trying but I think that the best thing they need are job opportunities. Job workshops and job training is great but I don’t think there is any substitute for actual work experience. It has real consequences, that have customers, demands, schedules, that have fluctuations in day to day scheduling, high pressure situations with deadlines. There is no substitute for that. There are thousands and thousands of young adults in chicago who are willing to work and who need opportunity and they just aren’t available.-Lisa Thompson