Tweaks success with entrepreneurshipYou have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Mariah Skylondz to school. The Solon Springs junior is there by 6 a.m. every day, brewing coffee for Tweaks, the coffee shop she opened with classmate Hannah Hedberg. Although Hedberg doesn’t come in until 7 a.m., she cleans and closes the shop each night.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
You have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat Mariah Skylondz to school. The Solon Springs junior is there by 6 a.m. every day, brewing coffee for Tweaks, the coffee shop she opened with classmate Hannah Hedberg. Although Hedberg doesn’t come in until 7 a.m., she cleans and closes the shop each night.
“I’ve become best friends with the janitors,” she said.
Business teacher Laurene Peterson calls Skylondz and Hedberg “the dynamic duo.” When they signed up for her new entrepreneurship class this school year, Peterson knew that it was important to lead for a while, and then take a back seat.
“You have to get out of their way and they’ll be fine,” she said.
Since it launched in January, students and teachers have been lining up daily to “get your fix” at Tweaks. The shop offers a cornucopia of drinks, from flavored coffees and iced tea to milk shakes, lemonade and espresso. “Tweak of the Week” specials are offered and every barista at the shop is happy to mix up custom blends for students who simply order “something with caffeine in it.” A recent trip to Europe with their AP English class prompted Skylondz and Hedberg to offer a selection of sweet drinks, many with caramel, inspired by the flavors of Greece. Their newest creation — the Reese’s Milk Shake — has become a regular menu item. Snacks like muffins are also available. Milk shakes and blended drinks are the top sellers.
AP English teacher Lydia Lewis is their best customer.
“Mrs. Lewis has a drink ordered every day,” Skylondz said. “We deliver it to her every morning.”
During the first semester the teens studied area businesses, chose what business to start and wrote their own business plan. When they submitted it to the Solon Springs branch of National Bank of Commerce, they got an A-plus. The bank official who looked it over “said we did a really good job,” Hedberg said. The teens held a “Dinner with Santa” fundraiser to earn $300 in seed money for Tweaks. They held a school-wide contest to pick a name and logo for the business, and to drum up interest.
Principal Sue Chandler said she liked the idea of an in-school coffee shop, but was skeptical at first about the teens and their commitment level. Her doubts faded fast.
“They’re the hardest workers in the place,” Chandler said. “I cannot believe they have been here every morning.”
Running a coffee shop has been both a challenge and a joy, the teens said. They’ve learned the importance of planning and that expensive espresso machines are worth it.
“The first couple of days were a struggle,” Skylondz said, with lines out the door and orders that kept the duo in the shop until fourth hour. Once they decided to rent a more expensive espresso machine, the lines shrank because the new machine could froth milk or make espresso in under a minute, instead of taking 10 minutes per cup.
The shop, which features Duluth-based Farmer Brothers Coffee, is more than a morning mainstay. It serves as a site where their classmates can work and earn community service hours, which are needed for graduation. The business has also netted more than $700 in profits, which have been poured back into the community.
“The biggest sense of accomplishment is the profits, being able to give back,” Hedberg said. In February, they donated money and items collected during a food and clothing drive to the Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse and Safe Haven. In April, they used Tweaks profits to encourage both elementary and high school students to break the cycle of child abuse. After speaking to elementary school students, Hedberg and Skylondz had them make pinwheels and plant a garden of pinwheels to represent children who had been abused. They also created a video production for high school students, based on the story of Kelsey Briggs. Their week of awareness ended on the softball field, where high school students were able to write a secret or problem on a balloon and release it. This month’s profits are slated for the school playground fund to replace equipment that has been in use since before Skylondz and Hedberg were in preschool.
The dynamic duo said they didn’t know when they started it just how much time their business would take. But the perks have made up for it.
“I wasn’t prepared for it to be so awesome,” Hedberg said, or for the feeling of achievement she has received.