Alcona coffee shop helps students gain business, marketing skills
LINCOLN — Students in Alcona High School’s entrepreneurship marketing class have a new daily grind.
The class recently opened a much anticipated coffee shop — Alcona Tea & Bean — after its opening was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. Plans to open the coffee shop continued to move forward when high school students returned to in-person learning in February.
Teacher Aimee Renchenski said opening a coffee shop in the school would be easy for students and means there is less overhead. She said they also decided to open the shop because coffee is “trending.”
“Most college campuses’ and their business programs have a coffee shop to get a small sample of the real world,” senior Caleb Kamiscke said. “This right here is another good example of us learning real world problems and solving them.”
The coffee shop, converted from a former concession stand turned storage room, opened for business on May 18. The cafe is open to high school students and teachers from 11:57 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. on weekdays this school year.
Renchenski said the students were engaged through the whole process and were responsible for conducting the market research for the business, deciding which beverages to serve, creating the recipes for those beverages, and determining how much they would cost.
Junior Hannah Tanner said their market research told them students were really interested in boba tea and frappuccinos. The students make the boba tea using iced black tea and flavored pearls that burst in the mouth. The pearls come in several flavors, including mango, peach, strawberry or blueberry.
Kamiscke said teachers surveyed said they preferred black coffee.
Neither Renchenski nor the four students in the class had experience working in a coffee shop, but they learned to use the equipment by reading the instructions and watching YouTube videos. The students ground coffee in their coffee grinder several times before determining the perfect grind for their espresso machine.
Junior Ashton Tracy said he watched hours of videos to learn about making coffee. He said there were things he assumed he could do, but learned after watching the videos, there is a specific technique behind it.
“You have to be very specific when you’re tamping an espresso,” Tracy said. “It’s like you have to make sure it’s as even as possible and packed down to the right pressure. I found little things like that, where it will change how the coffee tastes.”
One of the biggest challenges in developing their menu was abiding by the federal Smart Snack in School guidelines, which applies to all food and beverages served to students outside of federally reimbursable meal programs.
“There’s a lot of things that people want but we just can’t serve for them,” Tracy said.
The students ended up developing two menus because of the guidelines — a limited menu that is offered on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and a more expanded menu on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In addition to selling coffee during lunch hour, Renchenski said next year they hope to sell coffee before each school day begins.
The entrepreneurship class would also like to create a more cafe-like space outside of the coffee shop next year, where they would add some table tops and a couch so students can come and relax before school and at lunch.
Renchenski said the coffee shop was made possible with the help of Career and Technical Education Career Navigator Helen-Ann Cordes, who wrote a $15,000 grant, part of which was used to get the coffee shop up and running.
Renchenski said the entrepreneurship class is the second class students can take in the school’s business marketing program. The first is intro to business marketing. The business marketing program returned to the district in 2018 after it had been gone for more than a decade.