Brewing up business


POSTED: Monday, September 28, 2009

Iliahi Elementary School students are using an old business rule of finding a need and filling it by providing a good cup of coffee to start the day.

They figure the competition is light: the closest Starbucks is 10 miles away in the Mililani Shopping Center on Kipapa Drive.

The Iliahi Dragon Cafe, named for the school's mascot, is operated weekday mornings as a booth in the cafeteria by 17 fourth- and fifth- graders on the student council. It is open from 6:45 to 7:45 a.m., and even offers drive-through service from a side door.

The extracurricular project was started last year by Tom Yamamoto, the gifted and talented student coordinator. The cafe is a business-teaching tool that also raises money for six college scholarships for seniors, who are Iliahi alumni, at nearby Leilehua High School, he said.

The seniors work in the cafe as part of the deal.

The cafe sells coffee, tea and hot chocolate by the cup, 7-ounce bags of coffee with their own label, and gift baskets. It serves 20 to 30 customers a day, including students, parents, teachers and a few community residents.


The elementary students develop math, communication and technology skills while learning to manage a business, Yamamoto said. Several at a time take turns working at the cafe with the help of three of the seniors. They all get to help mix and smell/taste test their own specialty coffee blends, purchased from Coscina Brothers Coffee Co.

Kirstyn Zeek, a fifth grader, was voted by her classmates to be treasurer because, she says, “;I'm good at math; I'm responsible. It's pretty hard but I'm getting better at it. Sometimes you have to deal with really big numbers. I count all the money and record the daily totals. It amounts to around $30 to $40 a day.”;

Fifth grader Jerae Keliikoa said she likes working the cash register because “;I get hot chocolate for free.”;

“;I oversee my workers to see if they're doing their job,”; said Keliikoa, who takes orders and gets to tell the teenagers what drinks to make. “;It's fun.”;

Yamamoto said six $1,000 scholarships were awarded last year, and depending on profits this year, in addition to sales at craft fairs, the awards will be about the same. The seniors also get one course credit for coming up with promotional ideas for the cafe, he added.

“;We're probably the only elementary school to provide scholarships for high school students,”; he said.

Leilehua senior Darian Tolentino said the elementary students interviewed the seniors before they were chosen for scholarship awards to evaluate how well they would work at the cafe.

Tolentino plans to study engineering at a mainland college and the scholarship will help because “;my family doesn't have a lot of money.”;

“;This is a great opportunity. Hopefully, we are good role models to them. I give them a lot of credit getting up so early, working the cash register, and they're younger than us. Most of the time they come in sleepy.”;

Starbucks, Coscina Brothers Coffee Co., Daga Hawaii LLC and Utopia Design and Photography all support the cafe.