High school students at Wright Tech in Stamford are learning to run a coffee shop — from the grounds up

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — For high school students who run the recently created The Wright Bean coffee shop, one of their first orders of business was, fittingly, to find the right bean.

The students, who are all part of J.M. Wright Technical School’s Hospitality, Tourism and Guest Services Management program, helped craft The Wright Bean from its inception, from choosing which coffee beans to use to what types of products to serve.

The menu currently includes dark and french roast blends and coffees flavored with vanilla and caramel to go with a selection of smoothies and milkshakes.

Finding the right balance with the menu has been a learning process, said Kendra Jenkins, instructor in the hospitality department.

Jenkins asked the students to think carefully about their choices. For instance, when buying perishable foods, how much should they purchase?

Students learned that lesson the hard way when they invested in strawberries in bulk, only to discover that the strawberry smoothies they all enjoyed in the classroom weren’t selling as well with customers: Some of the produce went bad before they could sell it.

The strawberry smoothies were ultimately nixed.

“There’s nothing better than true hands-on experience,” said Karina Malek, head of the hospitality department.

More than 30 students are in the program, which runs from ninth to 12th grade.

The hospitality department is one of the newer ones at the school, Jenkins said. Trade schools such as Wright Tech — which includes students from Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton — are typically known for electrical, culinary, hospitality and automobile specialties.

The overall program offers students a wide array of certifications, including Serve Safe, OSHA training and hotel certifications.

Jenkins said there is a misconception that trade schools are not preparing students for career and college readiness

“I find that trade schools are the best of both worlds,” she said. “They give you a great skill set and are meant to prepare you for your first job.”

The idea for Wright Bean, which opened in March, was to create a business that the students could develop from the ground up. That involves learning about marketing and sales as well as coming up with a logo and business model and promoting it on social media.

Students are taught how to run the business, including preparation and serving of beverages, and also interpersonal skills such as greeting and interacting with customers.

The business has ventured outside of Wright Tech’s walls to serve customers.

Recently, Wright Bean students served staff at Cloonan Middle School in the faculty lounge. Before that, they created a pop-up beverage service at the Residence Inn Marriott in Stamford.

Jenkins is a trained barista and has experience in the hospitality and guest services field, having worked in that sector in New York City. One of the ideas she suggested to the students, based off of her own experience working in restaurants, was to use coffee ice cubes in the iced coffees sold at Wright Bean in order to preserve the coffee flavor.

So far, that idea has proved to be a winning one, especially with Cloonan staff.

Malek said the iced coffee is one of the top sellers, as are the mango and veggie smoothies. A couple of milkshakes, vanilla bean and cookie monster, are also toward the top of the list in terms of sales.

“We make a lot of great stuff here,” Jenkins said.

The money from the shop goes back to the school and to the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System. Some of the funds also go back into the business to buy more equipment. There is a tip jar, as well, said Jenkins, and money from that is used to offset the costs of field trips for the students.

While The Wright Bean is still in its infancy, Jenkins and Malek continue to consider ways to expand the business, including adding food to the offerings.

“This is just the beginning,” Malek said. “We want to do more.”