Through coffee shop, Wahlert students brewing up business skills

It was just past 7 a.m. Wednesday, and four Wahlert Catholic High School students already were hard at work at the Dubuque school’s concession stand.

Junior Kylie Schmidt, 17, carefully poured coffee into a cup, adding a pump of vanilla syrup and a splash of milk. She scooped ice into the beverage, popped on the lid and slid it across the counter to a waiting student.

As another eager customer approached, junior Izzy Ungs, 17, greeted them.

“I love taking people’s orders, talking to them and starting their morning off right,” she said.

The two girls are part of a small group of Wahlert students who operate Grounded Coffee Co., a student-run business that launched last month.

Senior Jamie Vondra, 18, said the idea for Grounded began percolating last year with three students who have since graduated. The trio developed a partnership with local coffee shop Bob & Lou’s, owned by Wahlert alumna Sarah Knabel.

Now, the current students in charge of Grounded work with Knabel to purchase supplies for their cold brews, lattes and hot coffee. The drinks are available for students and staff to purchase.

Customer traffic was steady Wednesday as senior Marco Morel, 17, expertly prepared another latte.

Marco is no stranger to the rhythm of a coffee shop — his parents own Kaladi’s Coffee Bar in Galena, Ill., where he and Jamie both work. Being part of Grounded, however, has given him a new appreciation of the time and problem-solving skills necessary to open a business.

“It’s been pretty eye-opening and showed me that when you see a really successful business, you know there’s a lot of work put into that,” he said. “ … I like that I can make the administrative decisions and learn business skills.”

Grounded currently operates on Wednesday mornings, and Jamie said the students plan to expand to Mondays as well. They also plan to choose a charity each month or quarter and donate a percentage of their proceeds to that organization.

“I really like the creative freedom we have,” Jamie said, explaining that the students helped design marketing materials and posters. “We’re really just getting to take the business where we want it to go.”

Izzy said the students meet with Mariah Reeves, the school’s associate principal and innovation coordinator who was recently named its next principal, to discuss business planning. School staff eventually plan to connect Grounded with one of Wahlert’s business classes so student workers can receive academic credit.

For now, the business is receiving rave reviews from teachers and students alike.

“It’s great that they have this opportunity to be in leadership and be young entrepreneurs,” said Jill Hohmann, an eighth-grade English teacher at Mazzuchelli Catholic Middle School, after accepting her coffee with a smile.