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Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy students forgo Starbucks for student-run coffee bar goodness

A gourmet cup of joe awaits these high schoolers
A gourmet cup of joe awaits these high schoolers
Posted at 4:30 AM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-10 11:57:59-04

SYMMES TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Rachel Brink came for the coffee and stayed for the life skills.

The senior at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy co-manages the The Leaning Eagle coffee bar, an innovative, student-run hot spot for teachers and students alike in the middle of the school's bustling, airy atrium.

"It's been amazing the experience of learning how to run a business and the dos and don'ts have been invaluable," Rachel said.

Working at the coffee shop earns students credits in an entrepreneurial business class, but the business is more than an academic exercise.

Students belly up to the coffee bar for caffeine and camaraderie. Phil Didion | WCPO contributor

Real money

The arced, wooden coffee bar serves 75-100 customers a day -- at a school with 460 students -- and is raking $200-$225 daily.

"We started last year hoping to bring in $100 a day," said Stephen Carter, who advises the students and teaches the entrepreneur class. "We quickly realized that we set our goal too low."

That haul is enough to begin paying off a $10,000 loan from the school's business office as planned and also to fund a scholarship for students who need help completing their Winter Term requirements.

The Leaning Eagle is a full-service coffee bar serving hot and cold drinks you'd find at upscale coffee houses, including staples like espresso and cappuccinos and more decadent choices like iced caramel lattes.

They use coffee roasted locally by Oakley's Deeper Roots, which also maintains equipment and trains the students.

Students weigh every shot of espresso for consistency and go through a gantlet of other training to make sure the quality is always high.

A student barista froths milk for a coffee drink. Phil Didion | WCPO contributor

They aren't paid with money, but earn grades by improving their skills at making coffee and running the operation.

"They have a vested interest in the success of the bar," Carter said. "They have an ownership stake."

Alana Lindenfeld, a senior who co-manages the coffee bar, has learned a lot through managing other students.

"It's different than just being an employee because you have to know how to talk to employees and treat them with respect as you would want them to treat you," Alana said. "But you have to give them direction while you stay personable."

She said the job isn't all fun.

"Watching the employees kind of get lost or not know what to do can be frustrating. But I just figure that I had to learn at one point, and it's still the beginning of the year, so I'll just help them out and they'll get it," she said.

The coaching is paying off for Sarah Day, 15, a sophomore who is partial to lattes.

"I like this better than Starbucks," she said. "It tastes really fresh here."

Anna Mumma, a 17-year-old senior, drank a medium mocha Wednesday morning and is a daily customer.

"It's really flavorful, and it definitely helps me wake up in the morning," she said, adding that her mom sometimes surprises her with gift cards.

Coming soon: Smoothie Bar

The coffee bar has been so popular that Carter and his students are in the process of opening a separate smoothie bar. They'll offer a variety of smoothies based on customer input.

And they're working with coaches on customized drinks that will vary by sport and circumstance -- a pregame blend, a post-workout blend, etc.

"We're having plumbing redone, we're having equipment brought in. The students themselves are going to be going in to paint, and hopefully we'll open in six weeks with a full menu," Carter said.

"This is very exciting," he added. "Last year, it was the coffee bar. This year, it's the smoothie bar. We have no idea what next year brings, but hopefully something very exciting."

Brink hopes to attend Vanderbilt University next fall, and she's not sure what career she'll pursue.

"Whatever I choose and whatever I do, I'm sure that the skill set we learned here will carry out over the rest of our lives," she said.

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