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Sonoma Valley High’s food services program to take over No Name Café

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Students at Sonoma Valley High School were surprised and disappointed last week to learn that the high school’s popular No Name Café will close this week – and when the campus’ second, smaller dining option reopens in January, it will be part of the high school’s food services program.

For the past 16 years, the No Name Café has been run by the nonprofit Teen Services and staffed by high school students. The café was typically open daily during school breaks and lunch, and most of its menu was prepared by teens in the nonprofit’s Lovin’ Oven program.

But since 2016, federal regulations have stipulated that campuses which receive funding for free and reduced cost lunches cannot have outside vendors selling food on campus.

Ironically, it was a student who brought the implication of the new regulations to the attention of district food services manager Cody Williams.

When the café reopens in January, it will have the same name and be in the same location, but its menu, derived from current SVHS cafeteria options, will be somewhat different. Entrees will include deli-style sandwiches on Basque Boulangerie rolls ($2.75), Homegrown bagels with cream cheese ($1.25), small salads ($3.25), snack and drinks. The store will no longer accept credit or debit cards but students will be able to use their My School Bucks account.

Williams said that about 50 percent of Sonoma Valley High School students qualify for free or reduced lunch. “Before, they had to pay for anything they wanted to eat at the No Name,” said Williams. “Now you don’t have to be a student with money to eat there. It’s an equity issue.”

New Teen Services executive director Becky Jo Peterson said she was disappointed when she learned that Teen Services was going to lose what the organization has long-considered a key component of its Ready to Work curriculum.

The café is one of several Teen Services micro-businesses that offers initial employment for young teens preparing for the workforce. The cafe employs from eight to 10 high school students each semester, who serve smoothies and snacks to more than 200 students, teachers, staff and administrators daily.

“Over the years, hundreds of teens have begun their work experiences at the No Name Café – learning the expectations of an employer, customer support and the fundamentals of running a business,” said Peterson.

Williams said that current No Name Café student workers will have first dibs at jobs when the café reopens, and that his team will provide similar first-job training to what was formerly provided by Teen Services. His staff already employs almost two dozen students between SVHS and the Adele and Altimira middle school cafeterias, all of whom are paid $15-$16 hour.

Peterson’s concerns about losing the No Name Café go beyond the job training that Teen Services provided, however, and she cited in particular the Art Wednesdays and tutoring programs currently held at the No Name Café. However Williams stressed that the nonprofit will still have access to the No Name Café space to hold its programs.

Losing the café will, however, have a negative impact on the nonprofit’s bottom line.

The Lovin’ Oven commercial kitchen at the Teen Center supplies the fresh food sold at the No Name Café. Peterson is busy searching for a new sales outlet for the kitchen.

“We’ll use this opportunity to explore options to expand the scope and sales of the Lovin’ Oven and maybe we’ll branch out into other social enterprises in the community,” she said. One idea discussed was opening a storefront to sell Lovin’ Oven baked goods.

Meanwhile, Williams is confident the café will be open for business when school resumes on Jan. 7. He said that from day one, he’ll be tracking what is most popular and be open to suggestions.

“We’re going to focus on giving kids what they want,” he said.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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