The smell of coffee wafts through the Julia-Brent Milholen Gymnasium as students’ names are called out the concession stand windows. The drinks the student pick up range from hot to cold, from hot chocolate to lattes to frappes. Inside, anywhere from six to eight high school students maneuver around each other in the small space, taking orders, grabbing snacks, prepping cups, running the frothers and coffee machine and finishing the drinks with the signature recipes they’ve developed, complete with whipped cream and decorative drizzle when necessary. Welcome to Castle Café, Chatham Charter’s first and only student-founded, student-run school-based enterprise started by DECA and marketing students.
With a menu that includes snacks, juices, and different coffee drinks, the Castle Café began as a casual conversation between DECA advisors Ashley Wood and Larisa Spillman. When a few marketing students learned about the idea, they started asking questions.
“My Sports & Entertainment Marketing class really got involved with the idea, so we turned it into a class discussion, and it evolved into a class assignment, which grew into a DECA project,” said Wood. “It really became an example of project-based learning at its best.”
The class ended up using all the functions of marketing taught in class, including surveying the target market to get input and ideas, developing the name and logo, sourcing and budgeting supplies and ingredients, developing recipes and pricing and finally making a pitch to administration, which resulted in getting approval to open. On February 3, 2022, after several weeks of product and recipe development, Castle Café opened for the first time from 7:45 to 8:25am. In that time, the staff averaged more than one transaction every minute, finishing with more than $150 in sales, in just 40 minutes. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with rave reviews from students.
“I went to two coffee shops recently and the coffee was horrible compared to the Castle Café,” said 9th grade customer Lindsey York. “Our coffee at Castle Café is so much better.”
The transferable skills being taught to the student staff is immeasurable, according to ninth grade staff member Abby Clark. “Working in the Castle Café gets me prepared for the real world with on-the-job experience I wouldn’t normally be able to get,” said Clark. “It’s also good for improving my social skills and has been a good way to connect with people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk to or know better.”
In the almost two months since opening, Castle Café is on track to contribute at least $1000 per month to DECA’s account, which will help fund student competitions like the one that 9 students and the two advisors are set to attend April 22-27 in Atlanta.
“Having this revenue stream is huge for us because we compete internationally in Atlanta, Orlando and Anaheim, with costs ranging anywhere from $1000-$2000 per student depending on factors outside our control,” stressed Wood. “We were encouraged by the administration to find creative ways to fund our program, which is not always easy in a small school. Outside financial support can literally make the difference between a student being able to go or not. Mrs. Spillman and I are so proud of our students for having the entrepreneurial spirit to start the Castle Café, and are incredibly grateful for the support we’ve received from students, parents, staff and the administration.”
Castle Café is open weekdays from 7:40-8:25am, with plans to offer fruit smoothies and open occasionally during lunch in the near future. Delivery is available to all staff members, and parents can swing by and place or pick up an order at the concession stand. Place your order online at the Castle Café website and follow the new student-run Instagram account.