Cleveland Students Debut School Bus Eatery

Students at one area high school are hitting the streets of Cleveland this summer to show off what they’ve been learning in the classroom, but those lessons aren’t your basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

Instead these students have been slicing, dicing and baking their way to a full menu of the classics, like Sloppy Joes, grilled cheese, tater tots, and PB&J.

This month, they’re being served up by the students of Jane Addams Business Careers Center, right out the window of their iconic food truck—an eatery that’s been years in the making.

“We were having a meeting about four and a half years ago and the [school district] CEO had said what do you need for the program?” explained Michael Szalkowski, chef instructor at Jane Addams.

Szalkowski said he and his coworkers considered things like new tables for the dining room at the school that serves student make food to the public, but Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon pushed them to think outside of the box.

That’s how the Executive Grill on the Go was born.

It took those four years for the district’s mechanics, along with some students from Max Hayes High School, to refurbish the old school bus, pulling out the classic bench seats and replacing them with prep stations, grill tops, and refrigerators.

Once they had a workspace, it had to be inspected and certified, and then came the menu, which Szalkowski said was inspired by the foods he and his fellow Jane Addams instructors remember from their days in school lunchrooms.

“Then we presented [the ideas] to the students and said, ‘let’s take a twist on this. What do you want to do?’” he said, “and then the creativity started to build from there.”

Peanut butter and jelly became The Elvis, the classic sandwich grilled and topped with honey and banana. Old school nachos and cheese come loaded with black beans, jalapenos and your choice of chicken or beef.

Students tested the recipes over the past several months at soft openings at CMSD East Professional Center, made some adjustments and officially debuted their creations at downtown this week at Walnut Wednesday — a lunchtime gathering of food trucks at Perk Park.

They’ll be back on Walnut Street June 20th and in the meantime, will be making other stops around Cleveland, including behind the district’s main office on Superior next Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We get out, we meet different people and we learn how to work in different environments,” said Imani Haskins, who worked the grill Wednesday, toasting buns for the Sloppy Joe’s and making grilled cheese. 

Haskins chose to attend Jane Addams in the 8th grade because of its culinary program. After years of experimenting in her kitchen at home, feeding her own family, Imani said it’s the creativity of cooking that’s kept her attention.

“I like taking from different cultures and making it my own because it’s art,” she said. “You’re getting different types of food and you’re plating it to make it look really beautiful and it’s coming alive.”

A senior this fall, Haskins is hoping her time on the food truck will help her gainnot just the culinary skills, but also management and hospitality know-how she'll need to open her own business someday.

The team of CMSD students are earning school credit for their work serving up plates full of the food they’ve largely cooked from scratch, but they’re also getting paid.

After a month at the Grill on the Go, these students will finish their summers working in Cleveland Schools, preparing meals for the district’s summer feeding programs.

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