PERU, Ill. — The Shake Shack at the Corner Café and Bakery is not only promoting the sales of ice cream and milk, it also is providing students hands-on learning opportunities.
The shake machine was purchased for the program at the LaSalle Peru Area Career Center with funds provided through the Dollars For Dairy program from the St. Louis District Dairy Council.
“The Dollars For Dairy program is a way for school districts to sell or promote more dairy in school cafeterias or an alternative model like this café,” said Monica Nyman, St. Louis District Dairy Council senior nutrition educator. “We typically give up to $2,000 per cafeteria to purchase equipment such as smoothie makers or panini makers.”
A school in Stark County received funds from the dairy council to purchase a panini maker.
“That school is selling 1,000 paninis a month, so that’s 1,000 ounces of cheese the cafeteria wasn’t selling last year,” Nyman said.
“The shake machine has made such a difference. We have students lined up waiting to put their order in for a shake,” said Susan Stiker, LaSalle Peru Area Career Center culinary arts instructor on the campus of LaSalle-Peru High School.
“The students are so proud of what they can accomplish when they see a line and can get through the line by successfully making the shake and not panic,” Stiker said. “They are learning how to set it up, run it and break it down while following all the safety procedures and recipes under pressure.”
The Dollars For Dairy program is funded through dairy farmers’ checkoff dollars.
“We’ve never had a milk shake program before,” Nyman said. “The kids are learning a lot of functional things, and it gives them an opportunity to work with ice cream and milk.”
In addition, each school that receives funds from the program provides Nyman with data about dairy product sales.
“We know exactly how much dairy the schools are selling,” she said. “It is really exciting because Susan probably would not have been able to buy the shake machine without our funding.”
The Corner Café provides students with challenges they may experience in a future job.
“I want to put them under pressure and sweat a little to see if it is for them,” Stiker said. “Whether they go into culinary or not, I’m teaching them a good work ethic, how to take pride in what they are doing and if something is not right, then find a way to fix it.”
The ProStart curriculum for the program was developed by the National Restaurant Association. The association created the curriculum because food service businesses found the employees they were hiring didn’t have adequate skills.
“We also show students that it’s not all just fine dining. There is also fast food, casual family restaurants and catering,” Stiker said.
Twelve area schools send junior and senior high school students to the career center.
“One of the first things I do before I let them sell food is make sure we go through a 10-week intensive training about food safety and handling,” said Stiker, who has taught at the center for the past three years.
Every student who studies at the center earn either a food handlers certification or a food manager certification.
“Many of these students are already working so getting a certificate is a big deal,” Stiker said. “Every restaurant has to have someone in house that has a food manager certificate.”
In addition, all students who complete the program are able to receive dual credit through Joliet Junior College.
“JJC offers an amazing culinary program,” Stiker said. “I try to gear kids to a community college because of the cost factor.”
The Corner Café usually is open on Fridays and sometimes Thursdays, Stiker said, depending on what’s happening at the high school.
“We prep the day before we’re open and the day before that we discuss what we’re going to make,” she said.
“Each week is usually a theme, and I try to do as much homemade as possible,” said Stiker, who holds a degree in family consumer science from Purdue University.
“I give the students my concept and then they find recipes to fulfill the task, for example learning about yeast. We select the best recipes and then vote so the kids are involved in the process.”
For more information about the Dollars For Dairy program and the St. Louis District Dairy Council, go to www.stldairycouncil.org.