The Paw, Riverside-Brookfield High School’s student-run off campus sandwich and coffee shop, has received a $25,000 grant, bolstering hopes that the school district can keep it open. District 208 Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann announced that a private local foundation, which wished to remain anonymous, had given the grant, which may be renewed next year.

Meanwhile, Baldermann said the school has applied for another $50,000 grant from another foundation and should know the fate of that request within three weeks. Should The Paw receive that grant, The Paw will be able to stay open for at least one more year while students and cafe managers work to make it a break-even operation.

“If we control our expenses, increase revenues and get the $75,000 in grant money, this should be break even,” Baldermann said.

But if the school is unsuccessful in its grant bid, The Paw and the adjoining Cyberdog Cafe will likely close this year.

At a meeting of a committee comprised of school board members, Paw managers and Brookfield President Michael Garvey, Baldermann laid out the projected budget for The Paw in 2005-06, showing the restaurant is expected to lose $68,000.

“As much as we love it, we have a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers,” Baldermann said. “Bottom line, when we’re cutting other things, it’s tough to fund a program that costs us $70,000 to $80,000 a year.”

The end of October has been tentatively set as the date by which The Paw will close if it doesn’t receive additional funding. Established in 2003 as an alternative program that combined vocational and entrepreneurial aspects, The Paw enabled the school to provide real-world experience to students interested in the foodservice industry. The program also had a strong special education component.

While The Paw still employs a number of students, the entrepreneurship classes taught in conjunction with the restaurant were dropped this year due to the uncertainly of the restaurant’s future.

Because student involvement is critical for The Paw, the high school’s subcommittee agreed last Thursday that the school will establish an Entrepreneur Club in order to maintain that element of the program.

Baldermann added that he has contacted the West Suburban Chamber of Commerce about helping The Paw write a new business plan, and said he would also seek to involve the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce.

“The students will be a crucial part of writing the business plan,” Baldermann said.

District 208 Board Member Nancy Chmell suggested the school look to Riverside Township for possible financial aid. Although located in Brookfield, The Paw sits within Riverside Township.

Among other possible measures the restaurant could take to improve its financial position were the possibility of raising prices slightly, obtaining corporate sponsorship, soliciting alumni donations, contacting county and state elected officials and applying for more grants.

The subcommittee even appeared to indicate that the end of October might not be a strict deadline for The Paw, if sales numbers from recent months show improved sales revenues.

“If it’s showing some life, then there’s another consideration,” said school board President Larry Herbst. “Closing at the end of October is not a done deal.”