Local Students Juice Up Entrepreneurial Skills at Rockaway Juice Lab

 Local Students Juice Up Entrepreneurial Skills  at Rockaway Juice Lab

By Kami-Leigh Agard

Last Friday, July 5, Rockaway Juice Lab, a student-run mocktail juice bar, celebrated its summer 2024 soft launch at Claudette’s Cafe at The Rockaway Hotel. At the event, the Juice Lab’s group of local high school student entrepreneurs made it known—they’ve got the juice. Not just with the creative mocktails they curate themselves and sell at the Juice Lab, but also their determination to learn the ins and outs of building a business from the ground up.

The nine students from Scholars’ Academy and Channel View (Beach Channel Campus) are tasked with creating and managing every part of the Juice Lab’s opening and operations: communications, advertising and outreach, budgeting, food costs, labor, scheduling, recipe development and testing, service and hospitality training, and more. The team, ranging in ages from 14 to 16 years old, even designated themselves innovative job titles: Tatyana, aesthetic director; Natalie, master drink tester; Fisayo and Zia, boss; Madison, excel wizard; Rachel, design diva; Zia, second boss; Asabi, Instagram guru; Dario, DJ/cameraman; and Victor, mixologist/future bartender.

In celebration of July 4th weekend and the Juice Lab’s second summer, the team brought back the fan-favorite and first-ever featured drink, “Firework,” which consists of a refreshing drink juiced with mango, cranberry, seltzer, simple syrup and garnished with mint. The students are integrally health-focused on how to limit the sugar content of their drinks.

Juice Lab’s founder, Janice Zaballero, a veteran education director and consultant who specializes in workforce development, shared, “They are so focused on health, and have been experimenting with how to make the drinks less sugary, but still taste great. They even came up with the idea of giving out drinks and conducting a survey on what customers preferred.”

Also, at last week’s soft launch, the students showed they know how to market to their peers as they hosted a “Tik-Tok style” dance-off competition awarding cash prizes ranging from $100 for first place, $50 first runner-up and $25 for second runner-up.

Scholars’ student Fisayo Ogunsola, Juice Lab “boss”, who was part of last year’s inaugural cohort, couldn’t be happier. “Rockaway Juice Lab is back and better than ever with welcome vibes and amazing drinks. We want everyone to check out our growing Juice Lab community with more Rockaway students joining the fun,” Ogunsola said.

The Juice Lab was conceived by Zaballero, who, for 15 years, was executive director of the Breast Treatment Task Force, a “Scan Van” that visited low-income women across NYC to provide access to breast healthcare. She shared that she knows first-hand how commuting for services and opportunities is an obstacle for residents of geographically far-flung communities such as Rockaway.

Zaballero, originally from Brooklyn, shared, “In August 2022, my son was signed up for surf camp in Rockaway, so we decided to rent here. I spoke to some local teenagers, and they expressed how they couldn’t take advantage of particular internships because of the travel to Manhattan. I thought, ‘What can we do about this?’ So, I asked the owners of the then Greenhouse Cafe, which was based at The Rockaway Hotel, if could I do an apprenticeship program with teenagers, teaching them not just how to serve the public, but also run a business.”

The Hotel and Greenhouse owners said, yes, and thus, last July 2023, the Rockaway Juice Lab was born and celebrated its inaugural launch, awarding on-site work/entrepreneurial experience to nine Scholars’ Academy students.

Zaballero said, “I felt that this was an important community to serve because it’s so tough for kids to travel into Manhattan or even Brooklyn for internships or apprenticeships because it’s so far. And I just know from traveling myself, sometimes there can be even further issues on the train. So, I think to bring a high quality, work-based learning and training youth program here in Rockaway was important.”

Serendipitously, The Rockaway Hotel had already been working with nonprofit Rising Tide Effect, a water safety/swimming and workforce program, also introducing youth to careers in the blue economy, including becoming NYC lifeguards and working for NYC Ferry.

So, according to Zaballero, Greenhouse (now Claudette’s Cafe) and the Hotel were a natural fit to be Juice Lab partners, offering bar and hospitality training and support to students in Rockaway.

This year’s Juice Lab is expanded with new partners, Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation (RDRC) and NYC Dept. of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Significantly, SYEP is the nation’s largest youth employment program, connecting NYC youth between the ages of 14 and 24 with career exploration opportunities and paid work experiences each summer.

Zaballero said, “Since the Juice Lab went so well last year, and now with RDRC and DYCD as partners, we get to double the number of students. Plus, with SYEP, this is a great start as usually for the 14- and 15-year-olds, they do an online program. SYEP granted special permission for the Juice Lab to be in person for the entire program.”

Starting this past Monday, July 8—from cost analysis to testing recipes, for six weeks (Mondays to Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.), the students are continuing their training at The B.R.I.D.G.E. Family Enrichment Center, located at 217 Beach 92nd Street.

“The students love it,” Zaballero said. “They come in an hour early and stay an hour late. It really means something to them to get real job experience, especially to start building their resumes. They are the sunshine, coming in ready to go.”

William Puccio, who teaches physics, chemistry and earth science at Scholars’, couldn’t be prouder of the students. He said, “I think it’s a wonderful thing that the community and schools are working together. These students work hard at school, and it’s nice to see them working hard here as well.”

Rockaway Juice Lab’s next event is on Friday, July 26 at Claudette’s Cafe at The Rockaway Hotel. All are welcomed to attend. For updates and behind-the scenes content, follow their Instagram and TikTok accounts: @rockawayjuicelab.

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