Let the countdown begin! After years of fundraising and educating the community, the founding partners of Gerry’s Cafe opened its doors Wednesday to its major donors, and the joy was contagious.
“We’re over the moon excited. It has surpassed every expectation, just to see how much joy they’re finding in their jobs,” said Natalie Griffin, a former special education teacher who partnered with Amy Philpott, who brought her years in retail management to the concept of offering a cafe and place of employment for young persons with disabilities.
Though more than a month remains until its official opening, Gerry’s board members, adult staff and new team members eagerly welcomed supporters to see their new home. Located at 1802 N. Arlington Heights Road, in a former Starbucks, the cafe is airy and bright, with tones of aqua and blue complimenting its white countertops.
Patrons entered through sliding glass doors, which offer full accessibility. Stationed at the entrance and standing underneath a mural of the mission of Gerry’s Cafe, was one of its ambassadors, Garrett Anderson: “Welcome to Gerry’s,” he said with a smile. Supporters immediately felt the warmth and energy of the shop after entering.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Bill Luehrs of Arlington Heights. “It’s warm and inviting and allows people to come and experience life.”
Another supporter on hand was Mary Beth Delaney, a speech pathologist and special education teacher with Arlington Heights Elementary District 25.
“These are my students; I think all of them went to South or Thomas,” Delaney said. “It’s so wonderful for them to have meaningful employment.”
Patrons were surprised to learn about all the menu options planned. From salads and sandwiches, to acai and quinoa bowls, to freshly baked muffins, cookies and scones; selections go far beyond just coffee. To learn more, people were encouraged to explore the six work stations where team members explained their jobs.
Steve McVoy was one of the first stops, as he described the selection of cold brews on tap. “This Nitro Cold Brew is my favorite,” Steve said. “You can taste the texture of the beans.”
In the back of the shop, Jamie Brooks stood in baking station, complete with a Kitchenaid mixer. When asked what she likes about her new role in the store, she said simply: “It’s my dream job.”
Co-founder, Philpott, glowed as she mingled with all of the faithful donors that have supported the cafe and its mission from the start.
“We wanted to offer our donors an informal time where they could get a first look at the space, the renovation and equipment,” she said. “Our grand opening is Aug. 26, but our sustainability moving forward is now our focus.”