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National Restaurant Association - High school students bring organic energy to NRA Show

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High school students bring organic energy to NRA Show

Choosing a name that stands out, creating a healthy and affordable menu, designing an interior that complements the brand image and managing the budget in a way the business can survive and thrive are among the challenges in starting a new restaurant. 

Normally, those tasks are undertaken by seasoned industry professionals or motivated entrepreneurs. But throughout the country, thousands of high school students are looking at ways to develop a restaurant concept in a highly competitive market and less than stellar economy.

Four students from Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northeast in Michigan demonstrated their business plan for a casual-dining restaurant Tuesday at the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. They were among several ProStart teams who showcased their management and culinary skills at the NRA Booth throughout the four-day trade show in Chicago.

For them, the Oakland students, developing their restaurant concept was all about creativity, passion, hard work and fun.

"We learned so much, and we loved it," said Erica Butts, Andrea Gaytan, Catherine Loscher and Lauren Parsch-Byczybski.

ProStart is the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's two-year program for high school students that develops the best and brightest talent into tomorrow's restaurant and foodservice industry leaders. Students apply what they learn in the classroom into a business plan as if they are actually are opening a restaurant.

During the NRA Show, the Oakland students took turns presenting their business plan in a well-orchestrated manner with a PowerPoint presentation. Loscher, the only junior on the team, explained the unique meaning of the restaurant's name and why they chose it. She said, "Jardin means garden in both French and Spanish. We want our restaurant to have an image of being fresh, organic and seasonal."

Gaytan revealed the meaning behind their leaf-shaped green logo: it represents health and vitality, which is reflected in the restaurant design, such as wood flooring, white and green walls, and tables and chairs.

The organic and healthy nature of "Jardin" is clearly reflected in the well-thought out menu. Loscher introduced a vegetable wrap, fettuccini alfredo and stuffed chicken breast. The students listed the cost of each item used in the dishes in their business plan to show they could make the menu healthy and affordable.

Realizing that marketing is an integral part of a restaurant's success, the team chose to use radio commercials to promote the restaurant. They also planned to use social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter to reach target customers. They also planned to give promotional pens with the restaurant's name.

"We are not any ordinary restaurant," Parsch-Byczynski concluded. " We are a creative, artistic and sophisticated one that is ready to serve you."

When asked how they made their decisions to start "Jardin," the students said they initially went through a lot of ideas and narrowed it to the eco-friendly idea because they thought it was good for health and the environment.

"We just want to do something simple and creative," Loscher said. "I was able to learn what I want to learn and our wonderful teachers led us down the road."

After the presentation, Parsch-Byczynski shared her dream for the future: "I want to open my own restaurant, and this program not only teaches me the how to run a restaurant, but also the business part of it."

Butts said, "There are just so many cool opportunities for us, such as building a stronger resume, gaining good experience, working together with a team. I also learned how to run a business. I plan to open my own restaurant in the future and this program teaches me how to start off right. We received a lot of support from our instructors, classmates and parents."

The students' teacher, Frank Costanzo, described them as excellent. He teaches about 120 ProStart students.

"They used all they learned in the classroom and applied it to their business plan," he said. I am very happy that they had the opportunity to present here today."

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