Cafe Too Restaurant Review - Offering a Recipe for Success

Cafe Too's calming tropical colors make for an inviting place to enjoy coffee with a friend or a favorite book.

If ever on a quest to quell a rumbling stomach and, perhaps, satisfy a philanthropic calling, look no further than Café Too .   Café Too’s warm tropical colors, bamboo flooring, lush seats, sleek black and white photos of Uptown locals and the melodic sound of general manager Kate Weichmann’s cool Aussie accent are just a handful of reasons why someone would want to stay for that first or third cup of joe-- Café blend, of course.   Even better reasons to dine in are the food and the café’s concept.

Café Too is one of three different programs affiliated with the Inspiration Corporation, “a non-profit organization that helps people affected by homelessness and poverty in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.”  

The café is staffed by students and graduates of its 13-week

Intelligentsia and Inspiration Corporation joined forces, brewing Cafe Blend.

culinary skills, job-training program.   Café Too’s program, which is approaching its two year anniversary, focuses on a range of skills, from the very basic—learning how to read and convert a recipe—to the practical— sanitation and safety—to job-readiness—interview preparation and resume writing.   Upon completion of the program, each participant qualifies to earn his safety and sanitation license and benefits from the experience of working in the full-service restaurant for nine of the thirteen weeks.  

While students range in age, race, and gender, each training class of ten students shares the hardships of homelessness and or extreme poverty.   Although most students are referred from agencies such as Heartland Human Care, Safe Haven and Salvation Army, some students find their way via Inspiration Café, the flagship of Inspiration Corporation, serving restaurant-style meals and providing a variety of other services to the city’s homeless men and women.

Café Too graduate Tim Robinson is all smiles when asked why he returned to Café Too after working at Macy’s as a seasonal line cook.   Though he enjoyed the fast pace at Macy’s, Robinson says, “This is home.   This is where it all starts.”   Weichmann speaks of Robinson as one of the program’s great success stories.   From student, to student trainee, to kitchen aid, Robinson now holds the title as a breakfast cook.   Robinson credits Café Too for helping him turn his life around.   The skills and knowledge acquired through the program have helped him pursue a career that is rewarding personally and professionally.   “I teach my sons what I learn.   They see me in the kitchen and want to do what I do.”  

Tim Robinson, Cafe Too graduate and breakfast cook.

Robinson enrolled as a student after having been referred to Inspiration Café by a social service agency on Chicago’s south side.    “For a while I was living on the streets.   Inspiration [Corporation] opened up my mind.   I had to do something better than I was doing….I can be more of a positive role model to my children.”   And from the looks of it, Robinson’s kids should be proud of their father’s journey.   In addition to knife skills, sharpening math skills, reading recipes, taking orders, and learning how to prepare different types of food, Robinson gains important life skills such as how to appreciate diverse backgrounds.  

Barbara Eagel learned about Café Too after reading a sign promoting the program and the opportunity to earn her safety and sanitation license.   Eagel, who is not homeless but describes her situation as very low income, is no stranger to restaurant work.   She has worked in the restaurant industry for forty years.   Eagel decided to take a chance and scale back her work hours waiting tables so she could participate in the culinary training program at Café Too.   Since her former job would not accommodate her training schedule, Eagel had to quit and find work elsewhere.  

Dine in and enjoy breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner.

And with Café Too’s current retention statistics, Eagel’s opportunity for advancement is encouraging.   Three fourths of graduating students are placed in jobs, with nearly 90% of those students maintaining employment 30 days from hire.   Approximately 73% keep their jobs after 90 days.   (Statistics beyond 90 days are not available because students are not formally tracked beyond a three-month period.)   Not bad, considering the obstacles many students face and that the program is relatively new. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement and, as the program continues to grow, the numbers should follow suit.

When I spoke to Eagel, she was three days from completing the program.    Eagel said she felt “more well rounded” and better prepared to pursue a career in restaurant consulting and management.   “I really appreciate the skills I have gained…knife skills, attention to detail, preparing food properly and working the line…There is a sense of completion when you are involved in the process of making something from beginning to end,” said Eagel.

That sense of completion, call it fulfillment, runs abound amongst all who participate in Inspiration Corporation’s programs.   Wiechmann not only left the land down under, but also a lucrative career in corporate finance.   Seeking a job that would provide greater personal fulfillment, Wiechmann hooked up with Inspiration Café and one month later applied for her current position with Café Too.  

“My job allows me to work with so many people.   Every two to three months there is a new group of students.   Everyone has a different story, a different situation…They are all very inspiring, putting all this effort in.   It’s a big commitment for three months, five days a week, four to six hours a day—to improve their lives,” said Wiechmann.    Most students must juggle their culinary training with whatever paying job they can find, not to mention the time spent aboard public transit, which for some students is 3-4 hours a day.

Perhaps the students’ dedication, coupled with the graduates’

Pumpkin spice or cranberry orange breads are wrapped and ready for those on-the-go!

shared sense of accomplishment makes dining at Café Too such a pleasant experience.   That, and the food, of course.

The café’s seasonal menu offers a variety of healthy, eclectic options like the fresh fruit plate with homemade banana bread and cream cheese, hummus and feta dip, jerk chicken salad, and apple fennel salad.  Everything is made from scratch and in-house, except some of the breakfast pastries and bagels, which are delivered fresh from Labriola.   The café is set to offer more options for patrons on-the-go.   Cold, prepared sandwiches will be available in the next few weeks.   While change seems to be a predominant theme within the Uptown community and the café’s program, Café Too’s concept is a constant:   Quality food plus a program that empowers people to improve their lives yields much success.

Cafe Too staffers aim to please.

Café Too is located at 4715 N. Sheridan, Chicago, IL   60640, and Inspiration Café is located at 4554 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL   60640.

For more information about Café Too and Inspiration Corporation, please visit

Added Perks:
Serving breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner

Major credit cards accepted
Outdoor seating
Intelligentsia coffee
Free Internet
Metered parking
BYOB (no corkage fee)

Hours of Operation:
Monday- 7 a.m. –10 a.m.
Tuesday and Wednesday – 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Thursday and Friday – 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday – 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday- 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.




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