Turning down West Broadway, the sidewalks are littered and people are shouting to each other from across the street. Nestled between a charter school and a seafood restaurant is a little bakery called The Cookie Cart.
The Cookie Cart is surrounded by the aroma of fresh baked cookies and the steady beat of a popular rap song. People are smiling and quickly eating lunch before their shift starts at four.
Anna Bregier, the director of development, took me for a tour of Cookie Cart starting with the wall of fame, a photo history of the organization.
Sister Jean Thuerauf started Cookie Cart after moving to North Minneapolis and seeing a real need for something to get young people off the streets. She started by baking cookies with the teens of the neighborhood, who soon decided they wanted to start selling the cookies. “(Thuerauf) would send them out with the bags of cookies and they got to pocket any money that they made,” Bregier said, motioning to a picture of Thuerauf on the wall.
Cookie Cart has now been transformed into a formal working environment where the kids are able to earn an hourly wage.
We turned left and a few kids hurriedly pushed past us as she lead me into a small broom closet. “We have one of the cleanest kitchens there is,” Bregier said proudly as she handed me a hairnet. “We get one hundred percent on our health inspection every year.” Hairnets secure, we turned and shuffled into the kitchen.
Upon entering the kitchen, Bregier and I were greeted by the industrious bustle of many people busy at work. Bregier said that the assigned jobs rotate between participants everyday. Among these jobs, dish washing is the universal favorite of the Cookie Cart workers, closely followed by cookie mixing and cookie baking.
The next stop in our grand tour was a metal refrigerator filled to the brim with “pucks”-circular cookie dough pieces. “The kids scoop the dough in a three ounce scoop and then they press it down with three fingers,” Bregier said as we walk towards the dry storage and laundry room, “its kind of our signature.”
The dry storage and laundry room is loaded with everything that could ever be needed to make cookies. Almost everything in this clean white room had been donated and are in massive quantities. “This helps keep our cookie costs low and helps us to be able to pay our youth employees to work here.” Bregier gestured to boxes and boxes of M and M’s, which come in handy when anyone is having a bad day.
Participants are in charge of washing their own uniforms and cleaning the three-floor building that Cookie Cart operates from. “They probably do spend more time cleaning then they do making cookies.” Bregier said, motioning to a mop and broom.
Junior Brandon Carlise-Maynard said that the thing he got most out of Cookie Cart were people skills, and it has helped him keep a job.
“The positive impact that this place makes is not on just the kids who work here, but the community in general,” said Bregier, “I think when you drive down West Broadway you can see that this community has had its share of sort of rough times, and I think Cookie Cart has been a bright spot here for more than thirty years.”
Cookie Cart also helps the youth by offering a variety of classes on valuable career skills, such as resume’ writing, interview skills, and customer service. “You’re a customer to everybody except yourself,” said Carlise-Maynard. This is one of many things Carlise-Maynard has learned from Cookie Cart’s classes, which he has found extremely valuable.
Jova Yang, a worker at Cookie Cart, said, “I like taking the classes here because I get to get a learning experience of how working is and how we’re going to face tougher jobs in our future; and so they’re just getting us ready for that.”
“It gives you job experience,” said Carlisle-Maynard, “it helps kids get ready for the real world, for their first job.”
Cookie Cart also aims to help keep teens away from gang violence. “There are kids who come to us who need some help,” said Bregier, “they need another option, something else to do. We always have counseling available.”
Cookie Cart has gotten so popular, they are no longer large enough to accommodate everyone who would like to participate. “Last year we employed about 120 kids and we turned away 162,” Bregier said, “we’re working really hard right now to grow this organization so we can employ the whole need of the community.” Cookie Cart is trying to open another arm in St. Paul.
Space is not the only reason for their limited selection of employees, Cookie Cart is also looking for a strong level of devotion. “We try to have what we call a ready criteria,” Bregier said, “so we make sure kids want to come, they want to be here.” When hiring, Bregier said they look for the same general things all jobs want in an employee, primarily a good attitude.
Bregier said, “For me it’s really about giving kids a new opportunity, expanding what they know are their options to something they never thought about.”