By Sage Levy
Special to The Sentinel
BOWIE – Bowie State University (BSU) and Saxbys celebrated the grand opening of an exclusively student-run cafe on campus on Nov. 19.
The cafe is part of Saxbys’ Experiential Learning Program (ELP) and will be the first cafe to open both outside of Pennsylvania and at a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Saxbys is a Pennsylvania-based coffee and social impact company that was founded by CEO Nick Bayer in 2005. The company first launched the ELP in 2015.
“It’s providing experiential learning for students right here on campus,” said Bowie State University President Aminta H. Breaux. “I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity again to partner with Nick Bayer. This is the second project we’ve worked on together … but to bring this to Bowie State University is just a tremendous change agent for the campus.”
The program entails hiring 45 students and giving them a real-life experience working at a Saxbys cafe. The ELP aims to instill students with the “entrepreneurial mindset” and give them lasting skills that will aid in their future careers.
One example of how the process will work is through Devin Gallion, 21, who will earn a full semester’s worth of class credits in addition to a stipend for his position as student cafe executive officer (SCEO), according to Bayer.
Instead of learning in the classroom, Gallion will learn and apply all the lessons he learned in business classes right away at the cafe.
“As someone who has built a business over the last 15 years or so, I realize that the skills he’s building here as a leader are skills that are going to pay off for him with a lifetime of success,” Bayer said. “So there’s excitement to see what Devin is going through.”
For Gallion, this grand opening is especially exciting. He began as a dishwasher in the campus cafeteria during his freshman year, a job he took “just to help out with the bills back home.” He was then promoted to working at the cafeteria’s pizza station and gained a following of those who loved to eat his pizzas, according to Gallion.
“This is my senior year, and I have been working in the cafeteria at Bowie State University since my freshman year, so a lot of students are comfortable with me just dealing with their food,” he said. “People know me as ‘that food person.’ People know I have that desire and passion for food.”
However, Gallion said he was still not sure how to take the next step in his career until he walked by a Saxbys recruiting table in the student center.
“I actually looked at the job description, and that’s when I said, ‘This is the perfect program for the next step,’” Gallion said. “The step between college and the work world, this is that middle step that will let you hit the ground running.”
He worked his way up through different positions in the company over five months until he reached his position as SCEO, which he says sparked his love for entrepreneurship. Gallion starts his new position on June 17.
“After I started the program and got an understanding of how entrepreneurship works and the pros and cons of it, I do have an interest in opening my own restaurant,” said Gallion.
Not only does the program seeks to enhance students’ entrepreneurial sensibilities, but it also aims to build leadership skills.
In addition to Gallion, about 20% of all student team members are in leadership positions, according to Bayer. While students working at the cafe are currently paid by the hour, program directors are looking to add more incentives to the program.
“We see opportunities for team leads to get course credit. Sometimes one, two, three, or even four credits depending on what they do in the cafe,” Bayer said.
Bayer, Breaux, and Gallion all expressed that this program is an innovative way for students to gain real work experience while still in school. Breaux also said that the university is looking to add more partnerships to enhance their student’s educational experience on campus, stating, “this isn’t the Bowie of 50 years ago, we are changing.”
The new cafe is located in the university’s student center, and according to Bayer, the location is an essential part of integrating the Saxbys within the student body. Not only will students see familiar faces working at the cafe, but they can also expect a revolving menu that reflects the campus community.
“We worked with Aminta’s team to be able to design a space that would really look like and feel the building but would be special to Saxbys,” Bayer said. “…We offer innovative products that match the guest we serve, and those menu items are ever-changing. We’re constantly evolving our offerings to provide the best experience to the communities we serve.”
As Saxbys and the cafe team continue to work towards their mission of better serving the campus community, Gallion plans to continue to learn and improve.
“The job is a lot, but sometimes I remind myself along with the Saxbys team that I’m capable of doing the job,” Gallion said. “They didn’t pick me because they didn’t think I could do it.”