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Student-run MUVA Café opens to brisk business

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Student-run MUVA Café  opens to brisk business

View of the student-run Manteca Vocational Academy Café which officially opened for business on Tuesday.


POSTED January 30, 2013 12:31 a.m.

Ann Drum was awake long before the crack of dawn Tuesday morning.

“I got up at 3:30 a.m. and was here at 4:40,” said Drum, whose bright-eyed smile and spritely steps explained the reason for the day’s excitement – the grand opening of the Manteca Vocational Academy Café.

The Café is unlike any business in Manteca, perhaps even in San Joaquin County and beyond. The bistro-style cozy dining destination is entirely run by students, from the planning of the day-to-day menu and preparing the food to the washing of the dishes and pots and pans in the kitchen, and helping customers at the counter. These are the students, in junior and senior high school, enrolled in the Culinary Arts class of the Manteca Unified Vocational Academy (MUVA), the first ever vocational charter school established by the Manteca Unified School District.

Drum, along with the other 19 Culinary Arts students, were all on deck at the Café for Tuesday’s grand opening. Business was brisk from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., with customers steadily streaming in most of the day inside the newly remodeled building that once was part of the old boardroom of the school district before the new building was constructed. Among the lunch-crowd customers were Superintendent Jason Messer, Manteca Adult School Principal Diane Medeiros who is also in charge of MUVA, Board of Trustee Michael Seelye, and other district administrative staff who enjoyed the day’s menu which included Chef’s Salad, Hand-tossed Caesar Salad, marinated tri-tip served on a toasted ciabatta with fresh garlic and Jack cheese, as well as the classic BLT.

Nutrition Services employee George Terry was just as enthused with his freshly prepared lunch as he was with the Culinary Arts program.

“Look at what it’s doing to the kids. It’s giving them an opportunity to learn. These are the Paula Deens and the Emerils of the future,” he said as he waited for his orders at the counter.

“They’ve done an outstanding job,” said a smiling Patti Page, director of Manteca Unified’s Nutrition Services just before the Café closed for the day.

“Today has gone very smoothly. I’m very proud of their customer service,” she said of the Culinary Arts students’ job performance on the first day of business at the Café.

Hanging on one wall of the dining area are the students’ food safety certificates. This certificate is a step above the food handler certificate which the students have also taken beforehand. Passing the tests and requirements for these certificates are all part of the Culinary Arts curriculum.

The Café will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, except during holidays. For now, it will be open only to Manteca Unified employees.

Café is Culinary Arts students’ business model

“The Café is their business model,” explained Chef Bryan Ehrenholm who heads the Culinary Arts program and is being assisted by two teaching assistants, Josie Contreras and Jennifer McDonald.

MUVA, which is an independent charter school of Manteca Unified, offers vocational training to junior and high school students regardless of whether they live in the school district area or anywhere in San Joaquin County. There is no tuition fee to get into the charter school which derives its budget from state ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funds. The goal of the program is to have the charter school students trained in the vocational classes offered and receive their high school diploma at the same time. Some of the students may also earn college or university credits while in the charter school, giving them a head-start when they go on to pursue advance studies after graduation.

Terence Harvey, for one, said he enrolled in MUVA to get a head start on his future career plan.

“I’m planning on being a chef. I plan to go to culinary school – at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco, or maybe in New York or Paris,” said Harvey who came to MUVA from Manteca High School.

Drum has the same dreams.

“I hope to become a chef – I plan on being a chef, maybe open up my own restaurant someday,” said the former East Union student who was one of those who came in early on Tuesday to bake the pastries, cookies and breads to make sure they were ready by 7:30 a.m. when the doors opened.

“We’re learning a lot here. And I like that we’re kind of a new family,” she added.

“I like everything about the Café and the work experience,” said former Manteca High School student Logan Thompson as he helped clean the spacious and shiny kitchen area while her classmates washed pots and pans and helped customers at the front counter. “I’ve learned a lot of things. My goal is to find out if I’m interested in culinary arts for sure.”

The new Café is more than just a hands-on experience opportunity for the students. It also gives them the potential to earn extra money while working at the café. All tips generated– customers can leave their tokens of appreciation in a tip jar next to the cash register – go to a student body fund and will be used for activities like field trips, said Ehrenholm.

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