MONTREAL — Many teens have part-time jobs in fast-food restaurants, but how many start the business from scratch and take charge of all its operations?
Thirty-four students at Herzliah High School’s Beutel campus undertook that challenge, creating four different micro-restaurants. For two days this month during the lunch break, the cafeteria was turned into a food court where students, staff and visitors could buy a variety of dishes and treats.
Of course, everything had to be kosher, so one day was for dairy and the other for meat.
It was a bustling scene as students hurried to take orders, prepare the food and handle the cash. At its peak, the pace was hectic, especially when a busload of hungry students from the Snowdon campus crashed through the doors.
But everyone remained surprisingly calm, and everyone got fed.
My Way or the Thai Weigh customized Asian-style stir-fries of chicken/imitation shrimp, noodles or rice, assorted vegetables and a choice of sauces, was served up in cardboard cartons. Big City Subs was assembling hearty sandwiches to order, while the Brady Brunch was making crepes and waffles on their griddle, as well as mixing smoothies, and the Sweet Elite was hawking “celebrity” cupcakes, brownies and other baked goods they made themselves, along with iced “caps.”
Each business owner loudly proclaimed the merits of their wares.
The consensus was that the food was not only served up in a timely fashion, but was scrumptious and attractively presented.
The students worked from specially created kiosks and wore T-shirts they designed themselves. The Sweet Elite team also donned tiaras, the girls and the boys, all part of the strategy of attracting customers.
Under the guidance of teachers Irving Rabinovitch and Brandon Uditsky, these Grade 11 students have been learning practical lessons in entrepreneurship that puts into practice the theories of their economics, law and media classes.
The food court was the culmination of a project that began in December with the students conceiving what kind of business they would enter. Working in groups of eight or nine, they had to come up with ideas that were feasible: within the resources available and that, most importantly, would find a market.
It is called the Student Stock Exchange project because each business team had to raise $600 in capital by selling shares at $2 each to fellow students or family. The “initial public offering” quickly sold out Feb. 16.
Each team had a CEO and board members with specific responsibilities. Together, they had to formulate a mission statement and an ethics charter. Then they got down to the nitty-gritty of drawing up a budget, establishing accounting procedures, reviewing legal obligations, and conducting market research, that is, polling classmates on what they would buy and how much they’d be prepared to pay. They even had to devise a charitable giving policy.
Finally, the youthful entrepreneurs promoted their products in the school, and there was a lively competition in the corridors with posters hung, samples offered and even video commercials shown. With their seed money, they bought supplies. They either made their wares in advance, as the Sweet Elite did, or prepared the food on site.
“What’s most amazing,” said Rabinovitch, “is to see the students’ domestic abilities and the pride they take in them. I would never have believed some were capable of that.” The Brady Brunch CEO Jess Meirovici, in an apron with photographs of the TV characters, declared, “I’m having a blast,” as she poured batter.
“The hardest part was estimating how many customers we would have each day, and how much food to buy. We didn’t want to run out,” she said.
The project was about more than making money. The experience taught the teens how to work together for a common goal, through discussion, negotiation and, when necessary, conflict resolution.
Their teachers were there to advise them, but, for the most part, the students worked independently and made their own decisions.
The Sweet Elite CEO Jayme Rubin said she learned that “hard work is required to be successful.
Thai Weigh CEO Harley Forman said, “It all came together because everyone knew their job. Those who were good at sponsors got the money, those who can cook did that.”
This organization paid off: Thai Weigh’s receipts on the first food court day alone were more than $650, and the final tally was expected to be higher than that on the second “meat” day.
Big City Subs CEO Jessica Akerman said the key was “building on everybody’s strengths. It’s not about you, it’s about understanding other people, their strengths and weaknesses. We learned that we really need to rely on each other. We started as individuals and ended as a group.”
Asked if she could see herself running a real business someday, she said she could imagine it if there was a good boss and good workers.
One thing the students did not gain out of the experience was personal profit. Any proceeds, after shareholders were paid a dividend, were to be given to a cancer-related charity.