Downtown Express photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Halle Levitt, 12, helped lure customers into a temporary coffee shop in the Seaport with free samples Wednesday. She was one of the youngest participants in a two-week, teen entrepreneur training program.
Young apprentices open two-day café in the Seaport
By Sisi Wei
“Our first three buttons are done!” yelled one of the students.
“Whoo!” screamed Halle Levitt, a 12-year-old from the Financial District. Easily one of the youngest girls there, Levitt occasionally carries around her palm tree patterned teddy bear to match the Roast Ashore palm tree logo.
“I like making buttons. You get to push things and pull things,” Levitt said as she carefully placed the Roast Ashore logo in the button maker. “It’s just like magic.”
The students are part of the Teen Entrepreneur Boot Camp started this summer by Pam Chmiel, the owner of Klatch Coffee Bar on Maiden Lane. The nine participating students range from rising seventh graders to seniors in high school and come from all over New York City, and even from Connecticut. The two-week day camp teaches students how to build a small business Chmiel picked a coffee shop from scratch and gives them the opportunity to do it themselves.
“It’s all about feeling the accomplishment of doing something,” said Taylor Banning, a 15-year-old from Battery Park City. “[Especially] knowing that we started from nothing. I mean, I could be at home watching T.V. right now.”
Chmiel and her husband, JC, began work on the boot camp last December.
“I don’t even know how the thought came to me,” said Chmiel, who had been trying to start a business program with JC for three or four years but couldn’t find the right focus.
After Chmiel created a business plan for the teen camp, she approached a consultant at Downtown’s Pace University Lubin Business School for feedback and “every time we put it out there we got a great response,” Chmiel said.
When Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, an international law firm, agreed to help the boot camp reach non-profit status for no charge, Chmiel knew she had to keep going.
JC says one of the main motivations for targeting students is to give them practical experience.
“If we really give them a chance to get their hands dirty, they can really do something,” he said.
During the first week of instruction, Chmiel said the students only received a total of four hours worth of lectures. Students spent the rest of their time in separate committees focused on public relations, advertising, design, marketing, and entertainment. Though they received help from adults, the students did most of the work.
“We called up a lot of musicians,” said Lin Ling, a member of the entertainment committee. “It was actually really fun to search for people and do research. I was surprised about the amount of money that would go into [a small business].” Ling, 17, is from Middle Village. Her committee was able to book local artists such as Dorothy Potter and Rob McDermott for entertainment.
Michelle Aragon, president and C.E.O. of Aragon Advertising, worked with the students as a guest speaker and advisor for two days.
“There were a couple of kids where I said, ‘I think I want to hire you’ because they were just so knowledgeable,” said Aragon, who worked with the students on advertising fundamentals such as their shop name, branding, slogans, and ambiance.
Working from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday wasn’t easy, however, and at the end of the first week, Chmiel says the students were exhausted.
“Everybody was like…” Chmiel closed her eyes, hung her arms from her shoulders, and exhaled deeply. “[But] they’re all really happy to come here every morning. That’s what’s great.”
Currently, each student pays $400 to participate in the program. Chmiel hopes that after reaching non-profit status, the cost can be subsidized and more students will be able to participate in the program. She hopes to run the camp again in the last two weeks of August if enough students enroll.
“When these kids learn to work the espresso machine and make the coffee and take the money, you just can’t beat that,” Aragon said. “They’re going to be dealing with real customers and the problems that can arise … and to be able to solve them on the moment. Even if they don’t wind up becoming business owners I think it’ll be a great experience for them to be able to know what its like.”
Roast Ashore opened in the Seaport on Wed., Aug. 6 fully decorated with seashells filled with coffee beans and paintings by Aragon displayed on the walls. General Growth Properties gave the group free use of the space. To cater to the large number of people standing in line for the TKTS booth nearby, the students set up an additional cart outside Roast Ashore to attract more customers.
Some students hustled to make coffee and tea Wednesday morning while others were sweeping up the hardwood floors or carrying out samples for the line outside. But Levitt’s favorite part is yelling customers’ orders.
“It’s fun to call out the name of the drink and people come and take it,” she said. “I feel so powerful.”
Roast Ashore, located on 159 John St., will also be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 7.