How a small café is helping Fullerton’s foster youth one cup of coffee at a time
By Michelle Ibanez
Located just two blocks away from Fullerton College and Downtown Fullerton is Monkey Business Café. The interior is furnished with tables that don’t match their chairs, and chairs that don’t match other chairs.
And while the food is delicious, and the coffee is to die for, Monkey Business goes further than filling guests with food.
Every year, more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system, according to the National Foster Youth Institute. After reaching the age of 18, 20 percent will be instantly homeless. Aside from not having a place to call home, many foster youth are on their own financially and emotionally.
Monkey Business plans to change that.
According to general manager Jonathan Die, Monkey Business is a workforce development program. “We have the training programs designed so that we can intake foster youth, at-risk youth, and youth vendors,” Die said.
Monkey Business gives their foster youth employees a sense of what it is to have a job, responsibility, and a taste of stability.
Die also explained that most of youth come from Hart Community Homes, a public charity founded in 1996. They’re in charge of two homes for boys in the City of Orange, and they’re also the ones in charge of the Monkey Business Café initiative.
With donations and garage sales, Monkey Business Café opened its doors in 2005, and while for some it became their favorite brunch establishment, it also became the place where lots of children’s lives would be changed.
Monkey Business Café also collaborates with Pathways of Hope, a non-profit organization that provides food, shelter and housing services to homeless and low-income people in the Fullerton, Anaheim and North Orange County area.
They also work with Supporting Transitional Age Youth (STAY) and Youthful Offender Wraparound (YOW). YOW provides, mental illness rehabilitation and counseling to youth offenders while STAY focuses on people ages between 16-25.
Partnerships with CSUF
Aside from working with different local organizations, Monkey Business Café also has a partnership with The CSUF Arboretum. Die explained that Monkey Business has a four-year grant with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which allows them to have their own farm.
Monkey Business organically grows their fruit and vegetables in the Arboretum. “We have our own farm supervisor,” Die said, “whose job is to plan, and schedule for the maintenance of that farm, then we specially go after the at-risk youth, get them on the farm, and offer them training on how to plant and grow vegetables.”
Monkey Business also has their own nutritional lab in the Anthropology Department at CSUF, where the youth are also able to learn about the fruits and vegetables they’ve cared for and have sent to the dishes Monkey Business offers.
A Structure for Success
Monkey Business diner Emily Godinez, an undergraduate student at Cal State Fullerton, was taken aback when she found out what Monkey Business is doing. She’s now a repeat Monkey Business customer.
“I think it is so cool when someone really takes the time to help, especially in our area,” Godinez said. “It’s already stressful enough not having a job when you need it but have the means to get by, I can’t imagine what they have to go through.”
For Jeremy, a server at Monkey Business for four years, the café became a place for him to thrive.
“I love the project that they’re doing with the foster youth,” he said. “And you know, I was one of them too, and it really provided me with stability when I needed it.”
As for their food, Monkey Business offers a variety of dishes, from the traditional pancakes, eggs and bacon on the side, to skillets, omelets, chocolate chip pancakes, to waffles, chili cheese fries, to the turkey club sandwich, the BLT-A, or burgers, salads and pasta.
But if you don’t know what to go for, both Die and the servers recommend the chilaquiles.