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John Marshall students set to launch Lawyer's Cafe



Jessica Whitmer isn’t a big coffee fan. “I love caramel,” she declares. But as a barista manager and team leader at the Lawyer’s Café, the new student-run coffee shop housed in John Marshall School, 3952 West 140th St., the 15-year-old 10th grader knows how to make a perfect cup of joe, not to mention a selection of other drinks.

The café, which will be operated by 40 John Marshall School of Civic and Business Leadership students, is scheduled to officially open in April in a space formerly used as a concession stand area. The idea behind the project is to teach business and entrepreneurship skills.
 
“It’s really cool to see them be able to start a company,” says principal Sara Kidner, noting that the students worked on customer service, research and development and finance teams to get the café started.
 
The café also offers a sense of community around John Marshall, which was converted from a traditional high school to three separate, smaller specialty high schools in business, information technology and engineering last August.
 
After mulling over different business ideas, the students decided on a coffee shop. “One of the reasons they chose a coffee shop was they wanted it to be a community,” says Kidner. A student vote decided on the name. “They wanted to have the historic aspect of John Marshall stay alive.” Eventually, they plan to open the café on Saturday afternoons. “We definitely want to eventually have it open to the public,” says Kidner. “But we’re concentrating on phase one this year.”
 
The George Gund Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation awarded $100,000 to help launch the venture, $50,000 of which will go toward a planned credit union for students and staff.
 
Students underwent interviews to work in the Lawyer’s Café, and while they will not get paid, they will earn community service hours required for graduation. Profits will go to the school’s activities fund.
 
Whitmer, whose only other job has been babysitting, is looking forward to the work. “I thought it would be a good thing because it looks really good on a college application,” says Whitmer, who wants to be a math teacher. “It’s an opportunity to do something good for the school. You learn leadership skills, what to do in certain situations, and what to do when a machine breaks.”
 
The students trained on all aspects of running the business, with the help from the owners of Rising Star Coffee. “I think it’s an opportunity to work, an opportunity to apply life skills to running a small business, says Rising Star partner John Johnson. “It’s a learning experience.”
 
An espresso machine, grinder, coffee machine and a brewer were purchased through Rising Star as well.
 
Johnson taught the students skills in menu planning, finance, inventory control, equipment and other details. Pete Mitchell, co-owner of Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream, gave instruction on great customer service.
 
The menu includes regular coffee, Frappuccino-like frozen coffee drinks, smoothies in a variety of flavors and two signature drinks: the Hot Drizzle features vanilla coffee with a chocolate drizzle and whipped cream, while the Creamy Dream is a similar drink but with caramel instead of chocolate. Whitmer personally likes a caramel Frappuccino.
 
The official launch date for Lawyer’s Café will be on Wednesday, April 13th. Hours will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. and 2:30 to 4 p.m. through the last day of school.

Johnson is as excited about the imminent opening as the students. “Like any small business opening," he says, "you just get to a point where you say ‘oh, this is really happening.'"

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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