LIMA — A Friday afternoon restaurant-style lunch culminates a week of preparation for a small group of students at Lima Senior High School — an event that attracts teachers and well-known locals.
For these nine students of special education intervention specialist Mary Miller, she says she hopes the lessons learned by her students from the weekly task last them a lifetime.
“I bring ideas for a menu to class and then we sit down and talk about what we will need and how much it will cost,” Miller said as she sits surrounded by four of her senior students. “This is to give these kids the life skills to be able to function out in the real world. They will be able to cook for themselves, and it helps them with budgeting meals in their own life.
“It also gives them the job skills that they might not necessarily get elsewhere,” she said. “So now if they wanted to go somewhere it helps them with the busing of tables, setting the tables, waiting on tables. It makes them more independent.”
Miller and her students weekly tasks start the first of the week.
On Monday, Miller and the students plan Friday’s menu and discuss what they might serve as the main dish and if they will include side dishes of fruits, vegetables and breads. They then determine what they will need to purchase during their Wednesday grocery shopping trip. They compare food prices in newspaper advertisements and decide where the best place to shop is based on their budget.
Miller also uses this opportunity to teach her junior and senior students about budgeting and financing.
“I have learned budget planning and menu planning,” senior Jalen Rose said as she dips her head with a shy smile. “We also learn we have a certain amount of money to spend and we can’t go over that amount because the restaurant won’t make any money.”
On Thursday, the group starts preparing some food items, and then on Friday they transform their classroom into the Scarlett Cafe.
“We start the day by putting out the tablecloths on the tables and setting out our sign-up sheet,” senior Sonya Gage said. “Once we are prepared, we get into our positions as dish washer, table setter, cashier, greeter and waitress. Afterward, we do clean-up, but before we do the final clean-up we get to eat, too.”
The price of lunch is $3.75, with dessert costing an additional 75 cents and a drink costing 50 cents more for a total of $5.
The students have become well aware of another aspect of running a restaurant — patrons providing feedback.
“They always ask for certain items and they always want to come back for more,” senior Ty Hall said. “Many tell me what they want and what they don’t want. We kill them (students and teachers) during the day on Friday because they can smell what we are cooking, and they tell us it smells so good.”
Some of their more popular menu items are their taco salad, spaghetti, potato bar and Spartan spuds.
They typically serve approximately 35 meals each Friday, comprised of a few students, who must be accompanied by a teacher, but most of the clientele are teachers and administration. If new customers want to reserve a seat, they can call Miller at 419-996-3472 to reserve a seat and the earlier the better. After the first time, they will be placed on a weekly email list and be informed of the menu.
They also have guests stop in for the meal such as Lima Police Chief Kevin Martin, Maj. Jim Baker and Maj. Chip Protsman.
“I think it is great program and I think Mrs. Miller really should be commended for all the work she does with the kids,” said Martin, who started patronizing the restaurant after being invited by a 2013 graduate of the program who also attends his church. “The food is always excellent and my favorite is the taco salad. Last week it was grilled cheese on Texas toast with tomato soup, and it was just excellent.
“I love going because the kids get a kick out of it and I get to eat a really nice meal,” he said.
Money raised from the cafe is used for field trips and toward their prom, which is held during the school day.
For the students, their mastery of the program shows as they near graduation.
“By the end of the year, their final exam is they have to show me they know all of the skills by the time they are a senior,” Miller said. “I need to see if they can be able to do this by themselves.”
For their patrons, student Kimber Harris, with eyes filled with excitement, summarizes the feelings of their patrons and the students.
“It’s good. It’s the best.”