By Todd Martin
Special to the Daily Herald
Mixing business, lunch and learning, an Ellison High School senior is hoping to help pay his college tuition selling juice slush drinks outside the school cafeteria.
Alberto Mendez, a student in Ellison's Leadership Academy, came up with the idea to start a juice bar business to serve as a required senior project for the academy.
After learning about the business and securing a deal with the Killeen Independent School District, Mendez went to work.
Twice a week, he sells a frozen iced beverages during the first 25 minutes of the school's two lunch periods. Friends help him staff the booth each lunch period.
In his first few weeks, Mendez said he was discovering the rigors of marketing a new product to a discriminating clientele. Not everyone knows what to think of a frozen slush in a package that looks suspiciously like the prepackaged meals-ready-to-eat familiar to soldiers in the field, he said.
Starting a business in a school cafeteria is no easy matter.
Mendez met several times with Killeen ISD nutrition service leaders. Food services director Steve Murphy was more than willing to help.
Murphy said he and colleague Dawn Evans mentored Mendez to teach the young man about state nutritional guidelines and equipment needed to sell perishable juice products in the school.
Though the student and his teachers worried there would be concerns about competing with the school district's cafeteria at Ellison, Murphy said he wanted to help the enterprising student.
Through contacts with vendors, Mendez settled on a frozen slush made with 100 percent juice, which minimized the need for equipment and didn't compete with juice selections in the cafeteria.
The school district ordered the drink through a vendor. The drink is called Iced D'Lite. Mendez sells the drink for $1 each, making 40 cents per unit sold.
The student signed a contract with KISD, agreeing to reimburse the school district for the cost of the product, allowing him to keep the profit for a college fund.
"Hopefully, it will be a good learning experience for him," Murphy said of the arrangement.
In visiting with Mendez through the process and attending the Leadership Academy's senior symposium where students present their projects, Murphy said he was impressed with the senior's initiative and desire.
The student started thinking about his required senior project last April, about the time Ellison opened its remodeled cafeteria. Conversations with friends led him to the idea of a juice bar, which evolved to the slush concept.
Leadership Academy teacher Donnie Williams was a big help, too.
"It's not a glamorous project," Williams said, pointing out students who tested DNA and ran fundraisers for their senior projects.
But, he said, the small business would get student attention around campus.
Mendez was diligent about conducting surveys among his peers. He looked at food and drink options, contacted and worked with the vendor and arranged to work during the lunch periods.
Williams said the school was cooperative with the project and complimented cafeteria manager Patricia Simmons for welcoming Mendez and providing freezer space.
"I'm liking it," said Mendez, after signing the contract. "I've learned a great deal. It's an opportunity a lot of my friends don't get."
Recently, Mendez said he was planning to make posters to market his product. Friends who work with him earn community service hours.
Lunch periods on Tuesday and Thursday can be a sprint for the student as he morphs into a slush salesman and then back to a high school student.
He retrieves the frozen slushes from the cafeteria freezer, clears his booth in the commons area adjacent to the cafeteria, and works to meet the demands of the hot and thirsty public.
Near the end of the lunch period, he returns the product to the freezer in time to make it to his next class.