A new restaurant slipped into busy Adams-Morgan on Feb. 1, amidst sundry sources of delicacies from distant points on the globe. But unlike many of its popular neighbors, the flavor of the Inter-High Connection Restaurant is quite local -- it is the extract of the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Across the street, a kindred spirit blooms within the Inter-High Connection Flower Shop. These are just two of about 60 projects operated by the school system that place high school students in actual work environments, according to Deborah Anderson of the career and adult education division.
Restaurants face a picky public that expects perfect food served promptly at appropriate prices. The Inter-High Connection, at 2406 18th St. NW, has the same standards for itself. On a cold, sunny lunch hour in March, an impeccably attired waiter greeted three incoming customers, took them to a table and stood sentry-straight, awaiting their orders.
After the waiter left, a gregarious man approached the table and asked for comments. "This restaurant is a project of the D.C. Public Schools," he said, then introduced himself as Otho Jones, assistant superintendent for career and adult education.
The meals -- chicken, cod and a sandwich -- had those familiar tastes-you-can-trust that come with safe, simple cooking. When the plates were removed, the customers found four types of dessert listed -- ice cream, pie, cake and a cookie.
"What kind of ice cream do you have?" asked one of the women eagerly.
"We don't have ice cream," the waiter replied.
"Well, what are the pies?" asked the other woman, eyeing her menu.
"No pie," said the waiter, facing his shoes.
"Well, what is this 'Chocolate Chunk Cookie'?" said the second woman, determined to fill herself with empty calories.
"We don't have that either," said the waiter. Down 3 to 0 on the dessert score sheet, he rallied quickly, explaining that the restaurant was brand new and that the staff was in the process of refining the menu. Until a new one was printed, the old one would be used.
The diners tried the cake, which was fresh and flavorful. Next came the bill, which was fewer than a dozen dollars for three hungry diners.
"Everything we make is fresh . . . the only things we purchase are pastry and desserts," said Vannece Carter, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who was hired to teach the students kitchen skills from pantry preparation to cooking to cleaning.
"We've been lucky. We've got a good crew," said Carter of the students.
Behind the counter of the restaurant, student Francisca Jimenez scanned the restaurant, making sure the diners received the attention of the waiters. Jimenez is an administrative aide for the restaurant, learning the business of serving food. She also tries to get a feel for customer reaction. Almost always, "they say it is fine," she said with a smile.
Robert Woodard, another student, stood near the entrance, greeting customers on his second day as a restaurant employe.
"So far, we're doing just right," he said.
Restaurant manager Jacqui Freeman, who was a career placement specialist with the school system before moving to the Inter-High Connection, arranges catering contracts for the business. She told Carter that she had just booked a reception.
"For how many?" asked Carter.
Freeman smiled broadly.
"They are sending out 800 invitations," she said.
Carter nodded briefly. "We can do it," she said.
Catering, carryout food, room rentals, gift food baskets and gift food coupons are offered through the restaurant, Freeman said. In addition, senior citizens, college students and D.C. public school students with identification receive a 10 percent discount.
"We're looking for people to adopt us and donate equipment," she said, mentioning that a meat slicer and a vacuum cleaner are on the most-wanted list.
Across the street at the flower shop, the sweet scents of the garden mingle with the more pungent odor of nail polish and cuticle softener.
In addition to learning the art of floral displays, steady-handed students stroke customers' fingernails with various shades of pink and red as they learn the art of manicuring.
"Most of our customers are teachers or principals in the D.C. public schools," said Victor Gonzalez, a teacher and manager of the store. "Or they are neighbors who believe in the concept."
"The students feel proud when they make an arrangement and see someone purchase it," Gonzalez said.
He said that four students who have worked at the store have graduated and found employment related to the floral industry.
But even for those who never again twist a stem, the experience is worthwhile, Gonzalez said, because a work record makes them far more attractive to prospective employers.
"I believe this is a very good opportunity for people . . . who don't know what to do after high school," Gonzalez said. "Now these students can say, 'I have some experience. If you don't believe me, you can ask Mr. Gonzalez.' "
"You have to realize that no one wants to give that first chance," he said.