Two years ago Christine Hekr, 20, helped launch Riverside Brookfield High School’s student-run restaurant, the Paw Caf. The experience influenced her so much that she decided to attend culinary school at Triton College, and today she works as the manager of the Paw.
Now, however, the restaurant that ignited her dream may close for lack of profit.
The Brookfield sandwich restaurant and adjoining Cyberdog Caf, operate as a student-run business class through the school and could be the only program to be cut completely in the 2005-06 district budget.
“I hope they don’t close it, we’re starting to get people in,” Hakr said. “I believe we can be profitable if we can stay open another year.”
School board members are expected to approve the $17.3 million operating budget, a 2 percent increase from last year’s spending, at its meeting Sept. 13. Residents are encouraged to view the budget, available at the high school and the local library, and comment at the Aug. 9 and Sept. 13 meetings.
During early summer budget work sessions, the district cut about $450,000 to balance out next year’s spending, Supt. Jack Baldermann said.
Not among the cuts yet, however, is the Paw. The district will evaluate the restaurant’s earnings before the budget approval. The class could be canceled, and the Paw closed, when school begins.
“The restaurant is the only program in jeopardy,” Baldermann said. “It has continually gotten better, but it’s still not up to breaking even. A business has to make a profit, or at least break even. In reality, we don’t have room to subsidize the program any longer.”
Teacher Pete Macabobby, who founded the program, has taken a position with another school. Former teacher’s aide Sri Rao is acting as the entrepreneurship program general manager.
“It’s true, we’re still losing money,” Rao said. “Last year we lost about $75,000, now this year we should only lose about $50,000. I think we should keep the program. We’re getting more profitable, and we’re teaching a lot to all students.”
Positives include the introduction of special education students into the program, providing a work-environment situation for teens normally confined to the classroom. Also, Hakr is running a satellite Paw concession stand at the Riverside Swim Club, which is doing well, Rao said.
The troubles really started when the Paw was almost a year late in opening. The students took an unexpectedly long time to plan for the new restaurant, Rao said.
Also, because it’s considered a classroom, Rao said the restaurant has to pay for a teacher to be on site at all times. Any maintenance work also has to be paid at a union wage, he said, and purchasing can be more expensive than a normal small business because of district policies.
“Our overhead is probably about 30 percent to 40 percent higher,” Rao said.
Located at the corner of Hollywood and Brookfield, across from the Metra zoo stop, the restaurant receives a lot of customers on busy summer days. Also, many students use the place as a hangout.
“I’m disappointed, I don’t want it to close,” said Hollywood Street resident Nancy Gulfi. “I think it’s a great plan for kids at school to get some work experience. I go there for coffee every day. We should give the place our support.”