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Jean & Larry Murphy, YoFresh cafe

Social entrepreneurs making a difference in the community

· Restaurants

Tell us about YoFresh Cafe

We are a community gathering place offering coffee/espresso, light meals, pastries, frozen yogurt, smoothies and protein shakes, along with free WiFi, board games, a community library, and comfortable seating.

635 Chicago Avenue

YoFresh Cafe Evanston

4.5 stars on Yelp!

What's your origin story? How did YoFresh Evanston begin?

We wanted to establish a space where community could find personal "refreshment" in an environment that was inviting and comfortable, relaxing but also fun. We also wanted a menu that was "good for you and good to you."

Behind this, though, we wanted to be "social entrepreneurs," using the proceeds from a business to underwrite programs of youth development. We particularly wanted to provide financial support for marginalized youth to travel internationally to broaden their horizons and deepen their personal resources. We know that travel helps young people constructively engage. They learn from their interactions with the peoples and cultures of the world.

We are proud to announce we recently made a contribution to, and hosted a fundraiser for, a middle school student who lacked sufficient funds to join in a public school based field trip to China. The event was successful, the student made the trip, and upon returning gave a notable account of her experience to an audience in our cafe.

What's the story behind the name "YoFresh Cafe?"

Our business is a franchise, and we use the franchise name. However, we recently modified it, changing from "YoFresh Yogurt Cafe" to "YoFresh Cafe." We hope this conveys that we are more than a frozen yogurt shop; we offer a wide range of fast-casual menu items, with froyo as the core dessert, but it is so much more.

Our shop is a place where individuals and groups can come to celebrate birthdays and special occasions; display their talents through live performances; hold meetings (for example, in the coming weeks, a not-for-profit will hold their board meeting here at YoFresh); or other positive purposes, such as the children's book club that chose this as a setting for their meeting, or the YWCA group that meets here monthly for conversations on critical social issues.

Tell us the story of selecting your location.

We sought an area with a viable commercial environment, an economically strong demographic base, attractive physical space, and established and growing trade flow. Evanston certainly meets those requirements.

What sets your business apart from others that sell the same products?

Instead of the "Disney effect" traditionally associated with froyo and ice cream shops, we opted to create a space that projected a true "cafe" environment, with soothing wall colors; reclining lounge chairs and mosaic cafe tables; a food menu that is health-oriented; a stone fireplace; a "Little Free Library;" a children's play area with constructive play toys and literature for them to read or have read to their by their parents/caregivers.

A world map lives on our wall, where patrons can mark the places of their origin or heritage. We host regular live musical performances by established artists as well as budding youth musicians. We have a Kindness Korner, which promotes "spontaneous acts of kindness." We have free WiFi for attending to personal business and study; and, or course, creamy, flavor-rich frozen yogurt and protein shakes, which carry the health benefits of yogurt, are kosher and gluten-free, and most of which are low-fat or non-fat, with many being dairy- and sugar-free.

What advice would you give to someone who was considering opening a small business?

Do your financial "due diligence;" study the history, current trends, and market projections for your product or service domain; implement a model that is sensitive to its context; prepare to be engaged with/participatory in/contributory to the community; hire staff that will extend warm, congenial, accommodating customer service; be personally involved in the management and development of the business; attend to issues of marketing and community awareness of your product/services. Most of all, be prepared to Work. Hard.

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