BHS students start, run their own coffee and pastry business

BROOKINGS – Starting and running your own business is a difficult task for anybody to take on, but a group of Brookings High School students are learning firsthand the basics of running a business by starting their own as part of class.

BHS seniors Stephen Heesh, Kylee Heaton and Yaritza Carmona Gonzalez and junior Cassie Whitaker have been running their own coffee and pastry business called Bobcat Bistro out of the high school’s family and consumer sciences room as part of their Capstone course.

The two-period class requires them to work outside of school hours so that they can cater events and prepare for and attend their state and national ProStart competitions.

A part of their class, ProStart competitions are a part of the larger ProStart coursework. The Bistro students will compete in the culinary competition, where they have 60 minutes to make a three-course meal to serve judges and are then critiqued and rated.

“It’s a lot of menu planning and trying to figure out what you want to do with your menu,” Whitaker said.

This year’s state competition is scheduled for March 11 and 12.

Heaton credited FACS teachers Joline Dunbar and Megan Jaquet with helping them come up with ideas for plausible business ventures they could pursue.

“From that, we came to the conclusion to have a bistro and serve coffee and cater,” Heaton said.

They offer such caffeinated concoctions as lattes, iced coffees, mochas and macchiatos and pastries like vanilla glazed croissants to their main customers, BHS teachers.

As Dunbar explained, the students have to follow district wellness policies and health guidelines, as well as state and local regulations, as they build up their small business. With those limitations in mind, they do have regular serving times where they can sell their wares to school staff, and they can set up for a few events outside of regular school days.

What they serve changes slightly throughout the year to reflect the current season. This is namely done through the creamers they use, and some other drinks they might have for sale.

“During the fall season, we have pumpkin spice, and this spring, we’re going to get new flavors, too. Depending on the season, that’s when we bring new stuff in,” he said.

“We bring new stuff in. In winter, we have hot chocolate, and when we get more into spring, we’re having chai tea,” Heaton said.

They’ve done a few catering jobs, and they plan to serve coffee at the Teacher Awards Night at the end of the year.

No small part of getting their business going was simply learning how to operate the machines and learn recipes they could use to make their own drinks and food. One of the more involved pieces of equipment they use is an espresso machine.

There was plenty of trial and error in coming up with some recipes, but they had help from Choco Latte, who is one of their sponsors. Choco Latte helped teach them about the machines they’d be using and about the different types of beans they’d use.

They were also helped by Hy-Vee, who helped them figure out what kind of pastry they’d serve along with the drinks. The students had considered offering such things as cookies or muffins.

The challenges of learning about coffee, pastries, equipment and business management aside, Whitaker pointed to the simple act of ownership as being one of the most satisfying parts of this experience.

“I like making this our own. If there’s something we want to do, we have the freedom to just say we want to do this today instead of something that we had been doing previously,” Whitaker said.

“I enjoy working with everybody. We’re all good friends in this. Everybody’s enjoyed it so far, so that’s good,” Heaton said.

“The experience isn’t bad either. This helps us if we want to pursue something like this for a career,” Heesh said.

One way the bistro is helping him and Heaton pursue future careers is that they’ve gone through the process of getting certified for ServSafe. ServSafe is an educational program developed by the National Restaurant Association that teaches food service workers about food safety. Gaining certification signifies that they’ve gained sufficient knowledge about food safety.

“That’s a really big thing to have, especially if you’re working in the food industry,” Heesh said.

“When I applied for my job at ULC to be a dietary aide, they were really happy about me being in ProStart and knowing how to do food and be ServSafe,” Heaton said.

Contact Eric Sandbulte at

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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