HOST students earn credits and pay for barista work
On any given morning at the Fireside Bistro, you’re likely to find a line of students and employees happily waiting to order their morning coffee, pastries, or a burrito. You’ll probably see Public Safety officers enjoying their breakfast at some of the tables. And, if it’s cold enough, a blazing fire in the Bistro’s fireplace will offer a cozy atmosphere.
But the Bistro, like many Highline services in the last three years, has gone through some changes.
Until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the cafe was operated by a contracted food service vendor, meaning Highline College paid a third-party company to provide food and service to students.
Yet when the pandemic hit and the campus partially closed, the Bistro eventually closed with it.
As the college planned for more students and employees to return to campus in fall 2021, questions surrounding food services arose. Should the college spend money to bring back a vendor? Or was there a better way to serve students both literally and figuratively?
Rachel Collins, Highline College’s Conference and Event Services Manager and current Fireside Bistro General Manager, said college leadership approached her in winter 2021 to discuss the possibility of a Fireside Bistro partnership with the college’s Hospitality and Tourism Management (HOST) department. Instead of paying a vendor to operate the Bistro, Collins would manage it while students in the HOST program worked as baristas, gaining valuable hands-on experience while getting college credit and pay for their work.
“I knew it had always been the interest of the HOST department to have a facility for hands-on training for their students,” Collins said. “I thought it was a natural partnership between the HOST department and Administrative Services to redevelop the Bistro space.”
Conference and Event Services is a department within Highline College’s Administrative Services division.
Justin Taillon, HOST department head and instructor, said his longtime passion for coffee led him to earn a grant to build the coffee program at Highline.
“This grant was offered as part of the post-pandemic planning within Washington’s college system,” Taillon said. “I was purchasing upscale coffee equipment for training in HOST when we realized there was no on-campus food and beverage provider.
The opportunity was too good to pass up.
“It does not make good business sense for a food and beverage provider to exist on campus right now,” Taillon added. “It is likely Highline College would have no food and beverage on campus or we would be paying money to a food and beverage provider to operate. Also, prices would be higher for our campus employees and students. The school operating its own food and beverage provider, and not being expected to turn a profit, allows us to keep prices very low while training students.”
Taillon became involved in the partnership in May 2021, started enrolling students in the HOST class (for-credit option) in summer 2021 and the Bistro officially reopened on Oct. 18, 2021.
Collins said since the Bistro reopened over a year ago, business has tripled and she’s had to hire more student workers to keep up with the long lines. The Bistro now has a total of eight student employees and will likely expand again in winter quarter.
And because the Bistro offers on-campus, paid positions, Taillon said the jobs are open to international students where the very coffee beans the Bistro provides are grown.
“Some of the best beans in the world come from locations such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar,” Taillon said. “And that is where our baristas hail from!”
Eaintchit (Ellie) Popo, a student from Myanmar who is studying to earn her associate degree in Hospitality Management, has worked at the Bistro since January 2022. She says the job fits with her class schedule and has allowed her to learn valuable customer service skills, which are important for a future career in hospitality.
“I thought hotel was my main thing but now that I’m here, there’s a lot of fields I can go into –– event planning, or like… everything,” Popo said, adding that she’ll probably own a bistro one day. “I want to give it a try, everything.”
HOST students who work at the Bistro gain practical skills that the classroom may not be able to provide.
“Experiential learning is effective pedagogy, particularly in prof-tech programs,” Taillon said. “Furthermore, by including students in menu design, supervision, cash handling, certifications in point of sale, etc. we are able to ensure they are prepared for post-graduation success in not only front-line food and beverage operations but via transferable skills to the wider world of business.”
In addition to expanding the team, the food offered at the Bistro has also evolved. What was once a selection of pastries, cookies and bagels is now a full menu of hot breakfast sandwiches and burritos, salad options, sandwiches, fruit and veggie trays, soup and their made-in-house sriracha mayonnaise. These changes stem from a HOST course called Menu Design (HOST 129).
“We are also featuring a special rotating coffee bean roast that is ethical, organic, fair trade, shade grown, and available for french press or pour-over options,” Collins said.
The Bistro often has specialty seasonal drinks and offers various sales and discounts throughout the year.
While the partnership has been a lot of work, time and coordination, Collins said she’s happy to be part of a partnership that equips students with a learning experience and jobs while providing a needed food service to the college campus community.
“I have an amazing team of student staff who are dedicated to the positions,” Collins said, adding that knowing her staff can take their experiences and move onto great careers after graduation makes the job worthwhile. “I love watching them thrive in the roles and receive feedback from the campus on their exceptional customer service.”
If you’re interested in working at the Fireside Bistro, email Justin Taillon at email@example.com or Rachel Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org for an application.