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Downtown High School Offers Cheap Lunch Option

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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The Columbus Downtown High School is wrapping up their first year of operation this Spring, and their new student-run cafe is off to a successful start. Open to the public on Wednesday and Thursday for lunch, the cafe at 364 South Fourth Street is run completely by students and features a variety of lunch options in the $5 range, making it one of the cheaper sit-down lunch spots located Downtown.

“We opened to a very limited clientele in the beginning to find out if this was something we could do,” said Pegeen Cleary, director of the Culinary Program. “We are now serving about 120 customers per day in the hour and a half we’re open during lunch.”

The new Downtown High School is a collaborative effort to bring vocational training and academics together under one roof. Students can spend their mornings learning english, science and math and their afternoons learning to be a chef, dietitian or restaurant manager.

“Dr. Harris built this school on the premises of it being a community school,” added Pegeen. “We are a part of Columbus City Schools, but also run the vocational programs for Grandview Heights, Upper Arlington and Westerville, so we have kids from all over the city attending here.”

The cafeteria can be accessed by the general public from the entrance located on the northwest corner of the building near the intersection of Fourth and Mound Streets. Inside, patrons will find a seating area and student servers quick to welcome and seat you.

“Our Cobb Salad is our biggest seller,” said Pegeen. “We also do well with our homemade soups, which use stock made from scratch. Our Homemade Potato Chips with Blue Cheese appetizer is another popular item. They aren’t quite as healthy as a salad, but people are buying them up!”

All of the main entrees on the menu are $5, which include a drink, and tipping is not allowed. Desserts and appetizers range from $1-$3 more. The proceeds from the cafe go directly to covering food costs and any profit leftover is used to take the students out to experience meals in local restaurants around the city as a part of their learning experience.

“Some of our students have never been to a restaurant where they have been served,” said Pegeen. “For them to be able to walk down to the Hyatt and sit down at a white tablecloth… that is a win-win for these kids.”

The Culinary Program has also partnered with the Central Ohio Restaurant Association on multiple projects. CORA sends guest speakers to the school and they have assisted with cooking competitions and other culinary events.

The kitchen environment itself is large, clean and professional. Nearly 100 students are enrolled in the Culinary Program and the kitchen can become quite bustling during peak learning hours.

“We teach everything from food cost percentages to menu planning, in addition to cooking and baking,” said Pegeen. “The menu specials on any given week will focus around whatever topic the students are learning about in the curriculum.”

Anyone planning on dining at the Downtown High School Cafe should make plans to do so in the next few weeks.

“We’re only open a few more times this year before we’re out for Summer Break,” said Pegeen. “And keep in mind that we’re currently cash-only. Next year we will have a cash register and are looking into being able to accept credit cards. We are looking at having the computer class help us with an online to-go order form.”

More information about the Downtown High School can be found by CLICKING HERE.

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