The popular Cafe@Culinary served its last meals Friday to long lines of students at Monte Vista High School. The snack bar, which has been run by the school's culinary class for many years, now will be managed by Chartwells, the provider of all the district food services including the cafeteria across the walkway.
Chef Kellie Joe, who has been running the culinary program at Monte Vista High for the past eight years, kept a stiff upper lip Friday, as she said goodbye to vendors delivering their last orders and oversaw her students making soup for their final exam.
"I'm about moving forward and being optimistic," said Joe.
The San Ramon Valley Unified School District made this change because it violated the rule that they cannot have competing food sales, said spokesman Terry Koehne. They proposed changes to Joe, he said, to make the Cafe fall within the directives.
One offer was to continue the Cafe the way it was but running the finances through the district.
Joe said she had reservations about this partnership, feeling it "would mean sacrificing student creativity and autonomy."
"I want my students to work in a fully supportive environment where adults seek to develop their potential and not 'micro-manage' us," she said in an e-mail.
Another offer was to have Joe run the entire food services program, which both she and Koehne agreed would have been a stretch.
"Who would teach my classes?" she asked. "I need to be a teacher."
The Cafe made a daily profit of $25 after expenses, including two hours of pay for Joe, which went toward supporting the culinary class.
"We pay for everything," said Joe, "our own maintenance and replacements. We have 175 teens a day – a lot of wear and tear."
The district will continue to fund the $25 per day to the culinary program through the end of the school year, said Koehne.
"The culinary program is incredible and she's an amazing teacher," he added.
The Cafe offerings were purchased from vendors in the community with ties to the high school, Joe noted.
"We switched to nutritional guidelines, and they worked with me," she said. "We took off the mayonnaise and used half the cheese. It took a whole summer to create that."
She said her criteria for Cafe food was that it be healthy and something that teens like. Entrees were fewer than 400 calories and made fresh daily. Snacks were fewer than 250 calories.
The menu had fresh California Rolls or chicken teriyaki rolls, 12 pieces, for $5. A Togo's turkey and cheese sandwich was $4.75. The High Tech chicken burrito was $4.75. An organic tomato and basil personal pizza was $5. Mochas and vanilla lattes were $3.25, while hot chocolate was $2. Chips, fruit and cookies were $1.
On Friday, the students working in the Cafe bustled around the small, efficient space filling orders. Music by the Shins was broadcast to add to the appeal.
"We designed this for optimum efficiency," said Joe. It has a door opening into the culinary classroom that will be closed off for Chartwells to take over.
Working in the Cafe taught customer service, cash handling and stocking food and supplies as well as food service and barista skills, Joe said. "Now they won't have that."
Michelle McMillen, mother of a freshman in the culinary class, addressed the school board last week, asking to have the Cafe closing on its agenda during a future meeting.
"We would like to see how we can continue the Cafe and not be in conflict," she told the board.
District staff recommended that parents meet with the Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, to learn about the process for the changes implemented for the Cafe.
Tomorrow: MVHS serves up a delicious culinary program