5th graders run food truck business on U. of C. campus

Customers line up near 57th Street and Ellis Avenue on the University of Chicago campus to buy Sweetacini (AKA Sicilian stuffed rice balls) and other lunch items from La Condita, an Italian street food truck run by fifth graders from one of The Academy Group’s entrepreneurship camp’s classes on Tuesday, Aug. 7. – Andrew Shi

Herald Intern

Fifth grade students received hands-on experience as entrepreneurs by running a food truck business earlier this month.

The students, who are part of an entrepreneurship camp run by The Academy Group, 222 N. Canal St., helped operate La Condita food truck parked near 57th Street and Ellis Avenue on the University of Chicago (U. of C.) campus during lunch hours on Aug. 1, 2, 6 and 7.

The Academy Group serves over 300 low-income and minority students from fourth to 12th grade across Chicago Academy Group student Zion (only the first names of the students were given at the request of the camp leaders) said the camp “teaches kids from different schools to be entrepreneurs and leaders.”

The summer camp is based at Walter Payton College Prep High School, 1034 N. Wells St., said Danny Kim, the instructor of the camp’s fifth grade Business Management class and a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

To make this year’s entrepreneurship experience possible, The Academy Group partnered with Kris Mika, owner of La Condita.

A Sweetacini (AKA Sicilian stuffed rice ball) — a rich, warm arancini di riso dessert with nutella stuffed inside a ball of sweet rice covered with whipped cream and chocolate syrup and topped with a piece of strawberry — sold by young entrepreneurs from The Academy Group. – Andrew Shi

Zion said her class had been preparing to run the food truck for about three weeks. The students made advertising flyers, went on field trips to learn about managing a business and practiced making food themselves.

The fifth graders, who ran the business on Aug. 7, were selling arancini di riso, or Sicilian stuffed rice balls, but as a part of the entrepreneurship program the class voted to market their dessert as the Sweetacini. The Sweetacini is a rich, warm ball of sweet rice stuffed with melted nutella and covered with a selection of toppings the class came up with: strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.

The Academy Group students set up a table next to the food truck and sold their Sweetacini to the people in line for the food truck and others who passed by for $5 with a $1 off discount for U. of C. students and staff.

“We want to learn how to be business manager [s],” Zion said. The business experience teaches kids patience and how to deal with rejection, she remarked. “People can be dismissive, [but you have to] keep your cool.”

A U. of C. graduate student in line was hesitant to buy a Sweetacini at first, but one young entrepreneur’s affable and confident marketing paid off, and the graduate student agreed to place an order.

Yannick, another student in the summer camp, added that only an hour after the food truck opened for business the students had already served 13 customers and made $60. They are in fierce but friendly competition with another class from the camp, which operated the truck on Aug. 6 and earned $73. The students said that the money will go toward their camp and their schools.

The class learned about “accounting, advertising, and money,” Yannick said.

Another camper said, “If we ever wanna be in a business…we’ll know how it works.”