OnMilwaukee's second generation is school age now, ranging from newborn to teen. Occasionally, some of these kids will contribute their thoughts to the site that is older than they are. This article was written by 11-year-old Mara, who is the daughter of publisher Andy Tarnoff.
In September, OnMilwaukee told readers about the Friendship Circle Cafe, that opened at the end of 2019. Now that it’s open, I wanted to interview the director, Levi Stein.
The Friendship Circle Cafe is a non-profit group from the Friendship Circle that has a bakery that employs adults with special needs. Levi Stein wants to make it very clear that just because the Friendship Circle Cafe is a Jewish organization, doesn’t mean it’s only for Jewish people.
In the back of the Friendship Circle Cafe, there is an art room where children can come and enjoy a craft for a very low price. After finishing the craft, the child is allowed to take their creation home with them.
Here is a friendly Q&A with Levi.
OnMilwaukee: How is business?
Levi Stein: We definitely have a lot of people who I don’t know that are coming through our doors, which is a beautiful thing. It has its ups and downs. We definitely need a lot more traffic than we have now, and we want to double it.
Could you tell our readers a little bit about the menu?
The front house is everything you would expect in a coffee shop. In addition, we have all different types of French bakery desserts, like cookies and cupcakes and specialty items. We have salads and tuna wraps.
Is all of your food kosher?
Everything here is kosher to the highest standard. We will have one or two soups every single day. We’ll have grilled cheese sandwiches, and I’m sure new things will pop up.
How much food is made by people with special needs?
The people with special needs are involved in pretty much everything, so it just depends on when they are working.
How many employees do you have?
We have about nine professional staff, but our goal is to hit 25 staff with special needs.
How do you think the Friendship Circle Cafe has been helping people with special needs?
Providing employment training can be very life changing for many of our participants. Some of them have never had a job, some of them have not had a job in many years, and some of them have never been happy at their jobs. They all say that this is the best job they've ever had.
Recently, I saw you at Bayside Middle School, where I go to school. What are you doing with the school?
I presented at their staff meeting. As a result, a class came to the Friendship Circle. It definitely included special ed students. It was nice to have 20 kids from Bayside Middle School come here, and they spent an hour with us.
Could you explain what "tikkun olam" means, and why Friendship Circle embraces it?
The literal translation is "repairing our world." But really it just means making a difference in our society.
How have you been getting the word out about the cafe?
Meeting with people like you is probably my number one way. Number two is obviously our website and social media. And number three is word of mouth.
I saw on your website that your goal is therapeutic care. Can you tell me what that means?
Very often when adults with special needs get jobs in general society, they don’t have the care and support that they sometimes need, and over here, they do. It’s just when there’s something that happens in a typical job, they might get fired. It’s evaluating and understanding why it happened. I can give you an example: One of our participants used to take food and even raw food while it was being made, which is not OK, both for hygiene reasons, and it wastes food. So in a typical job they would probably be fired for that. For us, we did a lot of research and we spoke with his caretakers. We spoke to his mother and found out that the staff helps him with his breakfast every morning except for the morning he worked here. So we worked with the staff to prepare breakfast the day before and then he wasn’t hungry. He never verbalized that because he didn’t know, himself, why he was doing it. So just giving that extra support and care is what we have here.
How has the community, and not just Jewish people, been responding to the cafe?
There’s actually a woman here that came in this morning from Fox Point, and isn’t Jewish. And she works for a company that has a foundation. I think this is the first time that’s ever happened to me. She emailed me and nominated us to apply for a grant.
What are the cafe’s hours?
Currently our hours on Sunday, we’re open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday we’re open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, we’re open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. And Saturday, we’re closed.