BYRON -- It may have been lunch time at Byron High School, but students were the ones serving the food this time.
The school hosted a soft opening on Wednesday for the B-Town Bistro, a food truck operated by students. Starting next week, the food truck will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, giving students a taste of what it’s like to start and operate a real-life business.
During Wednesday’s opening, a few students decked out sporting gloves, masks and hairnets were in the truck serving pork and macaroni and cheese, or Cajun jambalaya to hungry customers.
Other students were overseeing plastic tubs of merchandise. A couple of the school’s teachers, Ryan Radke and Josh Bernards, were buzzing around, overseeing all the details.
“We’re having some great opportunities for real-life learning here,” said Malia Schroeder, principal of Byron High School. “It’s been really exciting to watch how far things have come for them.”
The food truck is a joint project between the school’s cooking class and its business class. There are about 60 students involved with the project. Overall, it incorporates a lot of local efforts. It uses produce from the school’s greenhouse.
"The pork that we're getting is coming from a farm in Goodhue," Radke said. "We're really doing that farm-to-table concept."
Radke said the idea started when he was talking with other teachers who were doing food truck simulations. Instead of implementing the same conceptual idea, Radke decided to apply for a grant to make it a more realistic experience.
In fact, the food truck is not just a class project. It’s a fully functional business. Radke became certified to handle food. For that matter, the students dealing with the cooking became certified as well, he said.
“We want the kids to enjoy it and find some relevance. Even if they don’t get into the food service industry, it’s the idea of starting your own business,” Radke said. “We always say, ‘it’s a lot of work, but it’s the right work.’ It’s something I think the kids will always remember.”
The food truck has a website, email and a social media presence. There’s a sales team. There’s a marketing team. The students made the recipes and cooked the food.
High school senior Aaron Yeigh is in both classes.
“It’s been pretty fun so far; it’s definitely unique from anything else I’ve ever done,” Yeigh said.
The school district initially approved the project in 2018. The school received a $40,000 grant that it used to purchase the truck in 2019. The B-Town Bistro was within days of opening last spring when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to move to distance learning, putting a hold on the endeavor.
But even dealing with the pandemic’s impact on the business has been part of the learning opportunity.
“What do we need to do for sanitation and hygiene and spacing? (It's) all these things that sometimes the kids want to roll their eyes at, like ‘does it matter?’” Bernards said. “Yeah, it matters; this is how you have to run a business now.”