Harvard Square Cafe Will Provide Jobs, Training to Homeless Youth in Cambridge

Two Harvard students have signed the lease for a cafe that would employ homeless youth in Cambridge.
Breaktime is a cafe that has a mission beyond serving coffee and scones; the plan is to provide job training and stable employment for Cambridge’s economically insecure youth.

Harvard undergraduates Tony Shu and Connor Schoen teamed up to create the cafe, after striking up a friendship while working at Y2Y, an overnight shelter run by Harvard students.

“Our conversations that we had with homeless youth while working at Y2Y influenced us,” Shu said. “We learned about some of the barriers they faced like finding jobs and getting job training.”

“I wanted to find [volunteer] opportunities for myself and my track team on January break,” Schoen said. “I learned how practical things like organizing clothes and making food can be difficult for a shelter.”

Shu noted that Breaktime Cafe has been in the works for just six months.

“It has been a short time,” Shu said. “It has also gone by very quickly planning-wise.”

Shoen says they’ve signed a lease in a prime area right outside of Harvard Square.

“We will open at 1,000 Massachusetts Avenue,” Schoen said.

The location is the former Cambridge College building, now called the Z-Park/ZGC Innovation Center, located halfway between Central and Harvard Square.

The pair have found inspiration and guidance in other local ventures, including

the the Roxbury-based Haley House Cafe, which has served as a model business for them.

Shu says that Breaktime has received funding that’s helping the project get off the ground. The money is coming from the Harvard College Innovation Challenge, and the Harvard Innovation and Ventures in Education, administered by the Graduate School of Education.

While those grants have helped them get started, they’re still in need of money.

“Our student management team is looking into grants.” Shu said. “ We are in the process of applying to five grants.”

Schoen says their business model emphasizes cost effectiveness, low overhead, and excellent customer service. They also plan to work other local businesses.

“We plan to partner with Union Square Donuts, Haley House Bakery, Iggy’s Bread and Boston Best Coffee,” Schoen said. “We also will plan also work with I-Cater, the food service arm of Pine Street Inn.”

Schoen says their business structure will be an LLC, noting that it’s a more flexible model for a small business compared to a nonprofit.  

“This cafe will occupy a small 15 seat space with a counter and window facing the street,” Schoen said.  “This cafe will feature local artwork on the walls to give it a community feel.”

Shu says the staff size will be, at most, six to ten people, including management. The duo are aiming to open in mid-November, sometime before Thanksgiving.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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