Gracie’s Cafe: Building Community One Cup At A Time

Gracie’s Café is the latest project of JCUA’s Community Ventures Program, which provides zero-interest loan for community development projects.  A long time coming, St. Leonard’s Ministries was able to open the doors of Gracie’s Café in September 2013 with a final push from a CVP economic development loan of $50,000. 

by Beth Filipiak
Organizing and Community Development Intern, JCUA

Gracies Cafe MenuChicagoans can certainly have their choice among coffee shops and cafés, but a few months ago in the Near West Side, a new café opened that is worth much more than a passing glance before heading onto something more familiar.  You won’t regret it.

Gracie’s Café is the latest venture of St. Leonard’s Ministry (SLM), an organization with almost 60 years’ experience of providing comprehensive residential, case management and employment development services for formerly incarcerated men and women.

Gracies Cafe from Chicago Gazette article Robert Dougherty Mike Ellert LaTonya Carter and Walter Boyd

Left to right: Bob Dougherty (from SLM), Mike Ellert (cafe manager), LaTonya Carter (cafe staff) and Walter Boyd (SLM director).

Each year, approximately 250-275 formerly incarcerated individuals reside in SLM’s four housing programs:  St. Leonard’s House, Grace House, St. Andrew’s Court and the Harvest Commons Residence, which opened late this summer in partnership with Heartland Alliance and is located in what was formerly known as the Viceroy Hotel.

Gracie’s Café, brightly lit and eco-friendly, is located on the ground floor next to the Harvest Commons garden.  In the summer there is patio seating and in the winter, friends can gather together inside and enjoy delicious year round Intelligentsia coffee and other warm beverages, light freshly prepared breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as Bridgeport Bakery pastries like apple squares and their season pumpkin bars.

The cafe staff

The cafe staff

Along with the great food and drink, customers can enjoy the warm feeling of knowing that they are supporting a great training program.

Gracie’s Café is staffed with graduates of SLM’s Culinary Skills program, which is run by its Employment Center.  As graduates of the training program, Gracie’s Cafe staff now receives valuable work experience and has the opportunity to meet with a job counselor to help them further their careers.

After training and working at Gracie’s Cafe, SLM’s goal is to move employees to stable, permanent jobs in communities and bring on new graduates to help them do the same.

As much more than a café, Gracie’s is definitely worth stopping by. Grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat or ask about their catering options.  They are also a great venue for smaller meetings, gatherings and just a great atmosphere.

Gracie’s Cafe in the Media:

Check out their recent feature in Gazette Chicago, and watch for more information on when they will be featured in Chicago’s own 30 Good Minutes, by the Sunday Evening Club on PBS.

Cafe Info:

  • 1519 W. Warren Blvd (plenty of street parking available!)
  • M-F: 7am – 2pm; S: 8am – 2pm
  • 312.492.8800
  • Visit and Like them on Facebook
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