The students operating the Bobcat Beverages Coffee House at Grandview Heights High School are learning a basic truism of business this school year: A prime location can help drive business.
The coffee shop is run by several special-education students from intervention specialist Sara Hager's class. The shop is open from 7:45 to 9:30 a.m. Fridays in Hager's classroom on the school's second floor.
"We used to run the coffee shop out of the concession stand in the breezeway by the gym, but a lot of the students' schedules required us to get creative in how the beverage setup would work," Hager said.
Since moving to her classroom, "we've experienced more business and traffic," she said. "The breezeway was a little out of the way and my classroom is more convenient for students and staff as they're heading to their first class."
On a typical Friday morning, two or three of Hager's students serve coffee, cocoa and cafe mocha to about 20 to 25 customers, Hager said. Each week, a snack is offered, as well.
The students sell doughnuts donated by DK Diner on the last Friday school is in session each month.
The cost for all items is $1, but students and staff who bring their own reusable cups are charged only 50 cents.
"We're trying to be more environmentally friendly," Hager said. "We stopped using (Keurig) K-cups."
Bobcat Beverages also delivers coffee and cocoa on Wednesdays to staff members at the high school, usually making about 15 to 20 deliveries each week, she said.
Regular customers can use a beverage card to get their fifth drink free.
Bobcat Beverages was initiated in 2015 by Brandon Theiss, then the school's intervention specialist.
Theiss died July 26, 2018, at age 39.
"It's been super-important that we continue Bobcat Beverages in honor and memory of Brandon," Hager said. "I stepped into his position after he passed, and it was a No. 1 priority for me that the coffee shop continue.
"Grandview had never had anything like it before, and it was Brandon's vision to continue the coffee shop and expand it," she said. "He was able to create a learning opportunity for his students that is unique and authentic and something beyond typical classroom-based learning."
Hager's students are gaining employment skills by maintaining inventory, counting and depositing receipts in the school office, handling cash, using credit-card readers and interacting with customers, Hager said.
"We have a whole different feel since we opened in the classroom," she said. "It's a more relaxed feeling and some students bring their coffee into the room and sit and chat for a while. It's more like a real coffee shop.
"We've even got music playing, and Ethan likes to dance around while he's serving the coffee," she said.
Hager was referring to sophomore Ethan Elliott, who started working at Bobcat Beverages when he was in middle school.
"It's a really fun job," Elliott said. "I like making the coffee and getting to talk to the customers."
The most challenging part is coping with the rush of caffeine-starved customers during peak times, he said.
Socializing is as much a part of the Bobcat Beverages experience as working, senior Olivia Gamble said.
"I enjoy seeing my friends who come to buy coffee and talking to them and showing them what we do," she said. "Since we moved from the concession stand, it's easier and less stressful because it's a more relaxed setting."
Gamble said she agrees with Elliott that customer blitzes are the biggest challenge.
"You have to make sure you're getting the coffee and cocoa poured and to the customer as fast as you can," she said.
One of Bobcat Beverages' regular customers is social-studies teacher Rob Ballinger.
He said he usually has a coffee delivered Wednesdays and stops by Fridays to buy a cup.
"I just really like having this service available. It's a nice way to start the day, getting a cup of coffee," he said. "The students do a great job running the coffee shop and making deliveries -- and the coffee's really good, too."