- Alison Novak ©️ Seven Days
- From left: Mathias Mmunga, Khalil Philie and Yusuf Ibrahim
At the bustling intersection of Burlington's Church and College streets, teens who attend the King Street Center are learning the finer points of entrepreneurship. Last Friday, clad in bright blue T-shirts, baseball caps, aprons and masks, three middle schoolers and one high schooler stood behind a kelly-green metal stand topped with stainless steel bowls piled high with lemons, limes and oranges. A sign below two striped umbrellas announced their product: "King Street Lemonade."
Clusters of people meandered by — swinging shopping bags, walking dogs and pushing strollers. Every few minutes, one or two passersby peeled off to order a cold beverage. Lemonade, orangeade, limeade, iced tea and blended drinks were all on the menu.
"Are you guys having fun doing this?" one motherly customer asked the workers as they prepared beverages for her group. They nodded. "You're not in the classroom, so you're getting fresh air," she added.
As she walked away, she sampled her drink, then a companion's. "Oh, my God, they're both so good," she said.
"Do you guys take cards?" asked another customer, sporting a shock of pink hair. They told her yes, directing her attention to the iPad-based cashier station.
"How long have you guys been out here?" a college-age blond woman wondered aloud as it neared 1 p.m. Since 11 a.m., they told her, though they'd been lugging gear and setting up since 10.
From late June to mid-August, King Street Center — a nonprofit youth organization that offers an array of programs for toddlers to teens — operates the lemonade stand four days a week. It's been an annual initiative since the summer of 1997, when King Street Center bought the original stand from Spectrum Youth & Family Services for $1, said the center's associate director, Dacia Ostlund.
In the lead-up to the summer season, kids take part in a 10-week job readiness program, where they learn about topics such as budgeting, food safety and customer service. They earn a $5-per-hour stipend and split the contents of the tip jar. They also get one free drink per shift. The stand basically breaks even, said Ostlund. Proceeds go to paying the workers, supplies and an end-of-summer celebration.
The hope is that the gig will help the young teens get a taste of the working world and build a foundation that leads to longer-term internships and job placements in high school, said Ostlund.
Last year, the stand didn't operate because of the pandemic. King Street ran a scaled-back summer program with few opportunities to venture out of the South End center. This year, the organization's staff has made a strong push to help teens find summer employment. The lemonade stand is up and running again, with 15 sixth- through eighth-grade staff members and a new stand manager position created for a high school student.
King Street has helped older teens find a variety of jobs, from maintaining trails with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps to taking tickets for the Vermont Lake Monsters. Others are working as junior counselors at King Street's camps for younger kids. The center also runs a more traditional teen summer program, taking around 30 campers on supervised outings to the beach, skate park and bike path, free of charge.
Compared with the fear and uncertainty of last summer, "this summer just feels so good," Ostlund said.
- Alison Novak ©️ Seven Days
- King Street Lemonade stand
Rising seventh grader Mathias Mmunga, who was working his first day at the stand, agreed. Last summer, he mostly hung around his house and played soccer in the backyard, he recalled. Mmunga started attending King Street's afterschool program and its job training course this spring, and he enjoyed learning life skills such as how to open a bank account.
"It was actually really interesting, and it was stuff I knew I needed to learn," he said.
He'll work two four-hour shifts per week through the season and also play a lot of soccer with friends. Mmunga said his summer is turning out a lot better, and more productive, than last year's.
Khalil Philie, who is headed to Burlington High School next year, has been attending King Street since kindergarten; this is his second year at the stand. He supplements the job by pitching in at his dad's farm at the Intervale. Philie said he likes working on Church Street because it's a central area with lots of interesting people.
The job itself is also interesting. Workers rotate through a variety of tasks: filling paper cups with scoops of ice and sugar; slicing and squeezing fruit in a large manual citrus press; mixing drinks in a metal shaker; and manning the iPad cash register. Philie said ringing up customers is the most fun job for him. When on squeezing duty, you have to be careful not to squirt lemon juice in your eye, he warned.
Business is often brisk. On opening day, the stand sold around $600 in drinks. Philie said tips usually amount to $60 to $80 a day; on a good day, they can surpass $100.
Local businesses chip in to help keep the stand running smoothly. The Burlington Hilton Garden Inn and Leunig's Bistro & Café donate ice. City Market provides compostable straws.
Some donations are for the workers themselves.
"They hook us up with free fries," explained 17-year-old Nayan Rai as he stashed away several paper bags from Leunig's Petit Bijou kiosk. Rai, a rising senior at Burlington High School, worked at the lemonade stand all through middle school. This year, King Street hired him as the stand manager, and he's paid minimum wage plus tips. He supervises the younger employees and makes sure things are running smoothly from Thursday through Saturday. The other four days of the week, Rai works as a waiter at the Residence at Shelburne Bay, a senior living facility. He's been there for two years.
"I love working," Rai said, matter-of-factly. "If I'm not working, there's nothing else to do."
Using money he'd saved, Rai recently bought a 2014 Toyota RAV4 from his father. His dad gave him a good deal, Rai added.
His favorite drink is one that hasn't made it on the menu yet. He calls it the 3-2-1: three oranges, two lemons and one lime.
Jordan Coolidge, a King Street employee who's worked in the teen program for the past five years, says he's partial to another off-menu beverage: an Arnold Palmer — half lemonade, half iced tea — topped off with orange juice.
Coolidge says he feels "blessed" that the youth he works with are so open with him about various issues they face. Interacting with a diverse group of customers, who come from all over the country, is a great experience for them, he added.
On the other side of the brick and cobblestone street, al fresco diners ate salads and sipped rosé. Smooth jazz from a busker's saxophone floated on the breeze. The King Street teens halved and pressed a few more lemons. The zesty scent of freshly cut citrus lingered in the air.
"Life is back," Coolidge said.