When he was a student at Loyola, Sean Connolly had the idea to bring a student-run business model to the community. Now a Loyola graduate, Connolly’s vision has become a reality with Helix Cafe opening in Edgewater this spring.
Helix Cafe — located at 6237 N. Clark St. — aims to reduce the impacts of youth unemployment by opening a business that provides jobs and skill development opportunities for high school students, according to its website.
“I had always sort of [thought] about [opening the cafe] since my time at Loyola working with the student-run business program,” Connolly said. “The cafe is ultimately an application of what I studied in grad school at Loyola, which was entrepreneurship.”
Both 2012 graduates, owners Connolly and Caitlin Botsios, built Helix Cafe using a business model similar to Loyola Limited, Loyola’s undergraduate business enterprise.
Loyola Limited gives Loyola students experiential learning opportunities in entrepreneurship and small business management, according to its website. The program operates several businesses around campus including Felice’s Kitchen, Chain Links and Ireland’s Pub 10.
Connolly said he’s been involved with Loyola Limited since 2011. He’s held numerous positions including founding president of Felice’s Kitchen as an undergraduate. Post-graduation, he served as the Loyola Limited’s assistant director and director of neighborhood initiatives. He’s currently on the program’s council of advisors and alumni board.
He said he uses his background in business to run the cafe while Botsios uses her background in education to create and facilitate the student-employee cohort program.
Planning the student-employee cohort required research to find the skills students needed and skills employees were looking for, according to Botsios. She said she created a curriculum to engage students in these skills.
The student-employee cohort curriculum focuses on individualized learning, according to Botsios. This includes goal-setting and working with what each student wants to achieve. The cafe collaborated with Chicago-area schools, including Senn High School, Truman Middle College, and Ascero-Cruz to create the program, according to Botsios.
Student-employees will work around 12-18 hours a week in the cafe, according to Connolly. Three of those hours are dedicated to learning business skills where will work in teams to take on business actions such as marketing a new drink or tackling waste issues within the business.
For the remaining hours, students work in various positions in the cafe, such as cashier and barista.
The student-employee program will hire eight students at a time to work for 26 weeks. After that time period, eight new students will be hired. By the end of the program, Connolly said he hopes students will have a better idea of what path in life to take.
“Depending on each student’s path, we hope to refer them to a permanent employment position with one of our partners, including some bakeries and other coffee shops around the city,” Connolly said. “Or refer to them to a college admission process, or connect them with one of our partners if the student needs further social and emotional development.”
The age range for these students is 16-24 years old, according to Botsios and Connolly. They’re hiring high school students, but the position is also available to unemployed high school graduates or students in an alternative school, schools for students expelled from the Chicago Public School System.
Helix Cafe is hiring its student-employees through several workshops which are open to any interested students, according to Botsios. These workshops focus on resume building, learning mindsets and communication skills. The first workshop took place March 16, according to Connolly.
Some students involved in Loyola Limited are excited to see a local business use the Loyola Limited business model.
Ashley Kennedy, a senior who currently serves as Loyola Limited’s CEO, said she’s thrilled to see Loyola alumni adapt the model.
“I think it’s fantastic. I think the model used is so unique,” the communication studies major said. “It’s also impacting community needs of unemployment. It’s great to see Sean and his team impact the RogersEdge community in such a meaningful way.”
Anthony Valentino, an accounting and information systems double-major, currently serves as the chief operating officer for Loyola Limited. He said he’s happy to see the business model be taken to new levels.
“A lot of people who don’t know about Loyola Limited don’t really take it seriously,” the junior said. “They see it more as a club than an actual business model. Being able to see it come to life in a different light is pretty cool and pretty awesome for everyone else to see as well.”
The target opening date for Helix Cafe is April 18, Connolly said.