The Mohawk Bakery in Mason City High School has seen a few changes this year.
Jessica Krusey, the new culinary arts instructor, said she started rebuilding the program with a blank slate after previous instructor Cynthia Gealow retired last year, choosing to make the classes more focused on methods and creative thinking. She also wanted the bakery to be more student-run.
“I could see the passion already without even being in the building yet, since this is my first year, but you could see how much it meant to [the students],” Krusey said.
The Mohawk Bakery, which has been in business for about 5 years now, according to Krusey, runs an hour before the school day starts on Friday mornings and serves breakfast items, coffee, hot chocolate and desserts with prices at either $1 or $2.
At the end of the week, the students’ assignments are sold in the bakery, Krusey said.
“It’s fun. The kids really love it,” Krusey said. “You could see the pride that they take in it.”
While items like the smoothies and coffee are constants on the menu, other items like some breakfasts, desserts and drinks are changed every month, and often with a theme.
Some of the bakery items are also sold through Lincoln Intermediate’s café for teachers called The Bean.
Smoothies, the most popular item, are sold through Smoothie Island, a branch of the Mohawk Bakery next door, after being brought back and revamped from years past, Krusey said.
“We have it more island-themed, like they dress it up and decorate it too, and that’s where you go to get your smoothies, so it’s a little more streamlined,” she said.
Krusey said they go through 80 to 100 smoothies a week, charged at $2 each. Overall, the bakery makes anywhere from $350 to $500, not including what they spent on ingredients.
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Student Calvin Perry helps run Smoothie Island and said he was surprised at the business aspect behind the project. "We have to count the money, and we take it to the office to deposit. We keep track of profit and loss; that's a lot to handle," said Perry.
The money stays in the class to help buy more ingredients and materials, and any extra money can also be used to take the students on field trips, Krusey said. In February, she’s taking the students to Des Moines Area Community College to see a whole pig taken apart.
Only the 18 students in Culinary Arts 3 run the bakery, so that they’ve learned baking methods – how they use them and how they translate in different recipes – in Culinary Arts 1 and to be a little more creative with some recipes in Culinary Arts 2.
“I tell the kids all the time… ‘I don’t want you to be a recipe robot. I want you to know what’s going on and why it’s functioning the way it is, so that if you’re in the real world and you’re at a job, why is this looking like this and what can I do to fix it if it’s not right,’” Krusey said. “So I want them to think on their feet.”
Krusey, who used to work in a restaurant, said she wanted to make the bakery entirely student-run, so they make the menu, the food and the logo and do all the marketing and sales.
“I really don’t care if they crash and burn,” she said. “I kind of want them to, because then they can learn from their lessons, and I’d rather them do it here in a safe environment than out in the workplace or at home or whatever. At least this is contained and I know what’s going on.”
Students get to pick the recipes for the bakery and try them – sometimes with a little guidance from Krusey — to help them think how some recipes might not fit the setting of the bakery, she said.
“It’s all them,” she said. “I want it to be on them.”
Culinary Arts 3 student Raina Leet has been working on gluten-free options for the shop. "I can't have gluten," Leet said, "so I've been doing gluten-free recipes for the bakery. I've learned a lot more things with gluten-free ingredients that I didn't know I could do."
Because students are in charge of the whole bakery, they are learning more than just culinary arts – they’re learning marketing, budgeting and how to run a business.
“If you didn’t want to be culinary – I get it, not everybody wants to be a chef – this is a marketing skill,” Krusey said. “This is business right here, so them having that I think is huge, too, and just the variability of what you can do within a café, I think is really neat.”
In the future, Krusey said she is looking to start a ProStart class, which is a college-level class students can take in high school that teaches things like five-course meals. Students would also be able to compete with other schools at state and national levels.
“You can compete food-wise, and it’s like 'Chopped.' You have an hour, and there’s four kids in the kitchen and they have to make three plates, or you can do the business management side and present what your restaurant would look like if you could potentially have that,” Krusey said.
Currently, about 140 students are in the culinary arts program this term alone, and Krusey said she’d like to see more family consumer science classes come up in the high school.
Grace Zaplatynsky can be reached at 641-421-0534.