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A café with class

High school students run this neat niche West Allis shop

April 10, 2012

West Allis - A table of four 20-something-year-olds laughed through lunch at a table in front of a wall of colorful art, including a picture is of a blue dragon.

The art, as well as other elements, lend an ambience that is sophisticated and comfortable.

Black cushioned chairs are pulled up to tables topped by a marble-like checkerboard in muted tones. The splashes of color on the walls make for a hip look.

This is not an Alterra coffee café, although it does serve that favored drink. It's the West Allis-West Milwaukee Classroom Café.

And although it's in the new school administration building, 1205 S. 70th St., and run by students, it's as far away from a school atmosphere as a bistro is from your high school cafeteria.

Serving the neighborhood

School officials like to say the Classroom Café offers convenience and style to a busy neighborhood. And so it does.

Some sit down for a lunch and then head back to work. Others duck in and dash out carrying subs or coffee.

The faire includes freshly brewed Alterra coffees, select teas, ciders and cocoas and baked-onsite Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. Breakfast sandwiches, toasted bagels and biscotti are a few of the morning items.

Lunch specials include soups and chili, salads, subs and breadsticks, healthy snacks, bakery and specialty drinks.

Opening at the start of the school year, the business has picked up steadily, said Jennifer Hill, who along with Marilyn Stigler, is one of two adult managers at Classroom Café.

A business curriculum

Hill and Stigler oversee the students' work.

A core of two seniors from Nathan Hale and two from Central run the café, going to classes either before or after their shifts. Each was chosen because of their interest in either the restaurant or business fields.

At the café, Hill said, the students learn the rhythms of business - how to order, how often to order and how sales fluctuate. Inventorying and billing and how to manage a small business are all part of the café's real world "curriculum."

The focus is on the business end of things, although the students do learn something about the food end - keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. But the offerings aren't made from scratch at the café.

Students are also well aware of the elbow grease side of the business. They are held to a high standard of cleanliness, Stigler said.

"These kids are great," she said. "They're very responsible and they work hard."

Student experiences

Tyler Espinoza, one of the West Allis Central students who works at the café, said the experience will help him as he goes into the business management field.

"I've learned how to handle money and different situations," said Tyler, who will be going to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this fall.

So, what has been the best part of working the café?

"I enjoy working with people and working with the people I know," he said. That includes the two Nathan Hale students who work at the café: Matt Henderson and Nicole Henzig.

Tyler's fellow Central co-worker, Zach Kovacic, plans to become a chef and will head to MATC this fall. He said his work in the café gives him a leg up.

"What I'm learning about food safety will help me a lot in the field," Zach said. "And it's more fun than I expected it to be."

AT A GLANCE

The new Classroom Café is open for business:

WHERE: first floor of school administration building, 1205 S. 70th St., West Allis

WHEN: Monday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., year-round

WHAT: Offers breakfast and lunch. Alterra coffees, select teas, ciders and cocoas and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. Breakfast selections include breakfast sandwiches, toasted bagels and biscotti. Lunch includes soups and chili, salads, subs and breadsticks, healthy snacks, bakery and specialty drinks. Also, Wi-Fi lounge featuring cable television, magazines, daily newspapers, comfortable cushioned seating

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