Cafe provides business ‘lab’ for city’s high school students
Students in Fremont, Calif., can gain first-hand experience in small business management at Cafe Nova. Operated by the city’s Youth Opportunity and Employment program, the cafe gives local high school students the opportunity to learn about customer service as well as behind-the-scenes business activities.
Cafe Nova opened for business in July 1999 as part of Fremont’s new Family Resource Center. The center’s multi-building facility houses 22 Fremont and Alameda County departments, state agencies and nonprofit organizations.
The 850-square-foot cafe is located in the youth quadrant, which occupies approximately one-quarter of one building. It serves breakfast and lunch, with students manning the counter and participating in marketing and product development. Typically, four students and one supervisor staff the cafe, which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday in the winter, with closing extended to 6 p.m. in the summer. In addition to the restaurant, Cafe Nova caters sandwiches, box lunches and continental breakfasts.
While the cafe is organized as a nonprofit business, the program operates under the umbrella of the city’s Youth Opportunity and Employment program, which provides job development services for high school students. Interested students sign up for a small business management class through the school system’s Regional Occupational Program.
Students begin by taking classes in the basics of small business management five days a week, from 12:30 to 2:30. Training progresses through marketing, personnel, procurement and reconciliation.
Eventually, students may work in the cafe, where they initially earn minimum wage. Students also have the option of securing a job elsewhere — either on their own or with the help of Youth Opportunities — but they must continue to attend classes two days a week. Their bosses report on their activities.
While the city provides Youth Opportunities space in the Family Resource Center, the organization supplies all materials used in the cafe. Grants and proceeds from fund-raising events provide the needed support.
Patrons include employees from the Family Resource Center and other nearby city offices, as well as people from a nearby sports club. The cafe’s location is “off the beaten path,” so additional signage is being developed to guide customers, according to Cindee Carpenter, program coordinator for Youth Opportunities.
A cybercafe also has been started in Cafe Nova. Currently, the cafe provides internet service via two computers. Plans are to expand the cybercafe in the future.