Decisions, decisions, decisions.
There's a lot to decide when starting a business, as the girls opening the entirely student-run Wilde Times Cafe tomorrow (with a 4 p.m. kickoff ceremony) are finding out fast. And sometimes the decision-making process is totally silly.
Stocking the jukebox, for instance.
"I thought that was the coolest part of the whole thing," said assistant marketing director Shayna Brause, who requested lots of Bob Marley. General manager Kim Ferris put the Eagles, Tracy Chapman and Tori Amos on her list, and marketing director Lisa Modi wanted house music, hip-hop and rap--the naughty-language-edited-for-radio versions, of course.
The girls, all seniors, are three of the 10 Wilde Lake High School students working fast and furiously to open the coffeehouse on time and get some business experience while they're at it. The cafe, a nonprofit that is being funded through community grants, will be open at first only on Tuesday nights from 6 to 10 and Friday nights from 6 to 11. Eventually the students hope to open the coffeehouse in Wilde Lake Village Center more often.
The menu will include coffee and tea (no cappuccinos--yet), soda and juice, and muffins, cookies, brownies and chips.
More important: It will have foosball.
The idea is to be Al's from "Happy Days," Central Perk from "Friends" and the Peach Pit from "Beverly Hills 90210." It's something that exists on screen but rarely in real life: the single cool, see-and-be-seen gathering place for all the kids in a community.
"Don't make fun of me, but I always see it as the school hangout on 'Saved by the Bell,' " said Shayna, 17. "But a 1990s version, not the 1985 one."
In suburbs like Columbia, there's a ton of stuff for teenagers to do, and at the same time nothing at all. There's bowling, movies, dinner, jaunts to Baltimore or the District, and getting chased from the Wawa off Hickory Ridge. "If we sit there and list them," said Kim, 17, "there's lots of things to do, but we've exhausted them." Been there, done that, need a new scene.
So when three boys, who have since graduated, were looking for an independent research project two years ago, they came up with the idea for a coffeehouse. The girls picked up the project when the boys graduated last year.
Two Wilde Lake teachers and representatives from Columbia Management Inc., which handles most of the Columbia-owned property (including the village center), are available for support and advice, and each student has a mentor from the business community. But the students make the decisions--and do the work--themselves. They get one credit but no cash; profits will go toward a scholarship for a Wilde Lake student to attend Howard Community College.
The students are trying to create an ambience that is Wilde Lake-y but yet not too Wilde Lake-y, because they want to attract teenagers from all over. Student artwork and sports jerseys will hang on the walls, many of which are sponge-painted yellow. The floors, true to the Wilde Lake colors, are tiled green and white. The furniture came from the defunct Gringada Mexican Restaurant. The fluorescent lights will be either muted by tissue or killed in favor of more mellow lamps.
In addition to the foosball and jukebox, there will be an air hockey table and trivia arcade games. No darts, though. "High school kids and pointy things don't work well together," Kim said.
High school kids and music do, however, which is why there will be a stage for live music and poetry readings.
The girls, many of whom want to go into business management or marketing, are learning valuable lessons. Lessons in Excel spreadsheets. Lessons in the headaches of bureaucracy. ("You can apply for one license, but they don't tell you about the five others you need," Kim said.) Lessons in the time, oh the time, it takes to start a business.
"We must spend, like, 20 hours a week," said Modi, 18. "We should get two credits for this." Lessons in the limitations of delegation. As Kim put it, "When I signed on to be manager, I never thought I'd be cleaning toilets."
Because as any restaurateur will tell you, the food's the thing, there are lessons, too, in how to make a good cup of joe. Those lessons were learned by spying on Barnes and Noble, Starbucks and Riverside, where people want cinnamon shaken and whipped cream squirted on their coffee.
As the girls sat in the scrubbed-clean cafe the other day--all they ever do is scrub, it seems--and talked about the bajillion things they needed to do and get before the opening, they spotted a spider scampering across the green and white tiles.
They argued about whether to step on it or scoot it outside. Stepping on it won.
Lesson #1,264: Always discuss your alternatives with your business partners.
Lesson #1,265: Scrub some more.