WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. (WCCO) — You never want too many cooks in the kitchen — especially if they are just 10 or 11 years old.
But Donatelli’s Italian Restaurant in White Bear Lake continued a tradition Tuesday that they started eight years ago.
The owners invited a group of fifth graders from nearby Willow Lane Elementary School to help cook and serve the food, as well as welcome the customers.
The kids spent months getting ready for this day at Donatelli’s. Their teachers showed them how to write resumes and cover letters. They also demonstrated good and bad interviewing skills.
Leigh Anderson is a life skills specialist and teacher at Willow Lane Elementary. She described how she pretended to be job candidate in class. She was professionally dressed at first, but then changed her clothes and her demeanor.
“I came in about five minutes later in sweats, I had a hat on, I was chewing gum, I said ‘um’ a lot,” Anderson said. “Then they brainstormed what was good or what was bad about that.”
The restaurant owners interviewed each of the kids, and then decided which jobs would be the best fit for them: cook, server or host.
But why does Donatelli’s do this each year?
“To give them an opportunity, to let them see something beyond what they normally see,” co-owner Trish Appleby said. “To let them see something that maybe they can strive for in the future.”
The students made pizzas and calzones during their two-hour shift. They prepped the vegetables for salads, and even got the pasta maker going.
But what they are learning actually has little to do with food.
“People skills,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of people skills that go along. And I think most importantly confidence.”
We asked fifth grader Eliana Lewis-Royal, who worked as a hostess Tuesday, if she was nervous.
“Yes, and then I was like, ‘Oh, it’s not that hard,’ because I did seat two cops and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Then I’m like, ‘Oh, this will be easy now!'” Lewis-Royal said.
And when some high-profile guests arrived, the students never lost their cool.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith walked in around noon. They received a letter from a student in the group named Alexina, and they were happy to come meet her and her classmates.
A group of 15 fifth graders from Willow Lane Elementary will be working at Donatelli’s the next three Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The restaurant owners say some of students have returned years later to work there after school or on weekends.
And in talking with the kids over the years, they have learned that so many of them are in need of adult role models.