Support Jean and Larry Murphy's YoFresh GoFundMe and help them reach their goal to make sure their wonderful community-focused cafe stays open: They're just $20,000 away from their $50,000 goal. Donate here.
For Evanstonians Jean and Larry Murphy, it's all about their 10 "froyo" flavors (and toppings, and sandwiches, and quiches, coffee, and more). BUT it's about creating community inside and outside of their YoFresh Yogurt Cafe at 635 Chicago Ave. that's the cherry on the top for this couple.
And, they say, it's thanks to that very community's warmth and support that they've been able to sustain their frozen yogurt cafe through the challenges of the pandemic and through the tragic loss of their son Ayinde who passed away suddenly in November.
But, as we all get vaccinated and begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, YoFresh Cafe still needs our financial support to get them across the finish line.
"Putting up a GoFundMe was the last thing that we wanted to do," Larry told me when I chatted with him and Jean on Zoom earlier this week.
"But when we looked at the realistic picture, if we didn't do that, it really would mean shuttering the place. That is the actual truth. These kinds of infusions help us to be able to see that we can sustain ourselves until we can build back up to that sustainable cash flow."
Please help Jean and Larry reach their $50,000 goal. They're just $20,000 away.
"The primary support that all of us seek is not the donation style so much as patronage," says Larry. "We want to be, not a charity recipient, but a community partner. And so, if people can, as the pandemic eases up, keep us in mind, give us a try."
Watch my interview with Larry and Jean to learn about this loving, giving couple who came to live in Evanston in 1974; Larry to teach at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Jean to serve as Director of First United Methodist Church of Evanston's nursery school.
LM: So that's what brought us to this place from California.
JM: We grew up in a place called Inkster, Michigan, married in 1967, and moved to California to pursue degrees.
DE: So you knew each other growing up?
LM: Yes, from high school. I went to study at the Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union. I ultimately received a PhD in the history of Christianity jointly with the University of California at Berkeley.
JM: And I received my undergrad degree from the University of California Berkeley in sociology, social welfare, actually.
DE: What led you to owning a YoFresh Cafe?
LM: I guess there's two pieces to that story. I had always had some kind of an entrepreneurial leanings. As we moved toward our retirement years when we had the space to pursue something alongside our educational work, my wife took me on a birthday trip to Phoenix, Arizona. And there we discovered what was new to us--not new in the nation--a place called Yogurtland, a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. This was our first real experience of it, and what drew us to it was the idea of having a health-oriented product that was fun to eat. But we also encountered another little place called the News Cafe. This was in the early onset days of the "public cafe," you know, coffee drinking, sitting around in a comfortable space, and it was so appealing to experience that.
JM: It was very comfortable. People were very relaxed, they were reading newspapers. We love to read. And so we thought the combination of a cafe, and yogurt, would be a good combination.
We also wanted to reflect our professions, and so my Masters, and Doctoral degrees were in education. I taught several classes in children's literature. The store reflects Larry's profession as well--in terms of giving, and caring, and the social network.
LM: Right in the entry to the store there's a plaque that says "Friends and family gather here." That's the tone that we wanted to set.
We have another plaque that leads our patron through what we call our "spontaneous acts of kindness." We want to promote support, living in community, in an atmosphere of kindness, mutuality and mutual care.
We reward patrons who fill out a little card, which indicates some little spontaneous thing they had done for someone else. They turned in that card and get a free cone or free cup of yogurt.
DE: How did you have to pivot and how has this year has worked for YoFresh, and for you guys?
JM: We are open today s a result of community support during the pandemic. If it had not been for the GoFundMe, the people coming in asking, "How are you doing," that has made a lot of difference.
LM: And they express that concern in ways even beyond the GoFundMe. They come in specifically to support us. They leave out-size tips. They express their care and concern for us.
We have sought to be more than a business. We don't treat [our customers] as customers we treat them as friends, as relational partners in community. That that was our brand, our model, but Covid intercepted. It prevented us from being a communal gathering space. People were not able to linger in this space. It's that kind of distancing from people that we had to pivot around in order to accommodate our well-being, our staff, and our patrons.
And we had built up a fairly substantial catering component to our business. But since people can't gather in groups anymore today, there's no catering to be had. That was one of the big challenges and we have tried to find a number of ways to make up for the losses that the protocols of Covid put into place.
JM: So that's where the community has come in. We were invited to partner with the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 PEP Project [seeking equity in the district's PTAs]. We raised a lot of money for them.
DE: Do you know how much you raised?
LM: We're forwarding today a check to them for $600.
JM: You know, some schools are PTA-rich, and other schools are not. So this was an important project for us.
Also we were invited to partner with Connections for the Homeless during the pandemic. Every Wednesday we prepare meals, so we get reimbursement for it, not 100 percent, but has helped us in terms of the loss of catering.
We partner with Jennifer's Edibles, Inc, to prepare portions of the meal [they provide for seniors].
DE: During Covid, you lost your beloved son Ayinde.
JM: He served as our General Manager for the first two years. Not only did he help us to conceptualize the program, he literally laid some of the tile, he recruited staff, he helped to write the personnel policies and procedures. He always called it a family business. H was very possessive of the business. So we attribute part of our success to his participation.
He was just so very proud.
LM: Yes, it was a stunning loss, it still is. It's a stunning loss.
JM: One of his favorite comments was, "OUTstanding!" He would say it in that way. I think that he would say about this interview, and about the fact that we're still standing: "OUTstanding.
We are grateful to have the store, because it keeps us busy and our mind off of our loss. Keeping the store afloat is very important because Ayinde's fingertips are all over the place. And so it's a salutation to him.
LM: One one of the things that being open allows is our chance to further extend ourselves and our mission in this community. We are initiating, in April, a pilot program, which we call YoFresh Scholars. We have connected up to two teachers at Washington School for this first Scholars program. These teachers will, each week, identify a student in their classroom who has made outstanding progress either in academics or in behavior, and they will be given a little graphic of a cup of yogurt, it will say YoFresh Scholar on the bottom. They'll bring that into YoFresh to get a free cup of yogurt and toppings, or a free smoothie. If it's successful, it will be expanded. This is something that thestore enables us to do--to further support youth development. That really is the goal of our store.
DE: And you have a section of books from Young, Black & Lit.
JM: A young couple came in and were talking to us about their efforts to find contemporary images of Black characters in books for their niece, but could not find any. So they decided to start this organization themselves. Initially, they distributed free books to Black kids in Chicago and in Evanston. The program has been so successful that they now can distribute three books to every child enrolled in schools in Evanston preschool through the eighth grade.
They asked to come in one Saturday, and do a pop-up bookstore. The way they fund their free book distribution is by selling books and using the proceeds to buy more from the publishers [to give away]. It worked so well, they did it again and again.
And then we said, how about, rather than a pop-up something more permanent, and so that developed into this book kiosk that we have in the store. We sell the books for them--we don't take any proceeds from the sale--we simply serve as a conduit for the sales of these books and once a month they come in and restock the shelves and collect what we have collected on their behalf.
DE: It must be four years ago now, I went on Le Tour de Noir bus tour of Black businesses and Larry was the guide. I love that tour, and then of course last year obviously it was canceled. Are you going to hopefully restart those when we can actually get on buses again?
LM: Yes. Next year, after everybody has gotten their two shots and we're back together again, we will engage the bus company and get back on the road.
DE: What else are you involved in when you're not thinking about YoFresh?
JM: It's called everything!
Larry is a researcher and consultant for The HistoryMakers.
LM: My particular area of responsibility is African American religion and religious history, but I also continue to teach part-time at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, even though I'm emeritus and retired. nI still teach regularly there, and I also teach at North Park Theological Seminary.
JM: And Northwestern University.
And, every, every once in a while I get a kiss!
And please donate to the GoFundMe!