Earlier this month, the founder and CEO of the coffee cafe Saxbys, Nick Bayer, announced that the company would enter a partnership with Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship in Pennsylvania. The company is creating the first-ever student-run Saxbys on campus in conjunction with the school’s co-op program, where students work for a company full-time for six months in lieu of going to class.
The first student to partake in the program is Meghan Regan, a junior. Under the title of Cafe Manager, she will have the freedom and support to run the cafe just as any other franchisee would, and she’s compensated like an employee as well. She has a voice in hiring her employees -- she’ll manage a team of 18-25 people -- and she’ll create her own marketing promotions. She’ll deal with suppliers and customers, too.
If that sounds like a lot of responsibility to hand off to a college kid, it is, and that’s exactly the point. Bayer, whose first foray into entrepreneurship is Saxbys, is giving students the training he never had when the first Saxbys opened in 2005. “There’s only so much you can teach in a classroom without an experiential learning component,” Bayer said. “The missing ingredient is how to apply it in a real-life situation. It’s so personal to me. I’m an entrepreneur and I want to give back to the next generation of entrepreneurs. I want to give them the opportunity to learn on our dime.”
Meghan was chosen out of approximately 15 applicants -- there are now more than 130 applications for the role when her tenure ends in March -- because she was, in the best possible way, O.D.D. That is, she fits Saxbys criteria for people that are Outgoing, Detail-Oriented and Disciplined.
“I don’t care if you know the difference between Colombian coffee and a smoothie. We can teach that, but you need those qualities,” Bayer said. “At 18, Meghan was dealing high-stakes poker at the Revel casino [in Atlantic City]. You won’t get and keep a job at Revel without being detail-oriented and disciplined. We like people that are comfortable in their own skin. Meghan has a magnetic personality. She’s an extremely positive, outgoing person and she’ll light up a room. She’s unapologetically jubilant and somewhat loud, and she’s cool with that.”
With the cafe set to open on campus this February, Meghan will have little time to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Still, Saxbys will be watching to see if the partnership is, indeed, fruitful. “You can very easily look at financials,” Bayer said. “We’re expecting 500-700 customers a day. If we get that many people coming in every day, that’s phenomenal.”
Yet, there are other measures of success as well. It’s equally as important to Bayer that Meghan and her team like their experience and the culture. Also vital is the feedback from the university. If the cafe is successful on all three fronts, Bayer sees no reason not to expand to other colleges. “On its worst day, this is going to be iconic just by Drexel. On its best day, it should be replicated at universities across the country,” he said. Having given lectures at universities including Cornell (his alma mater) and Temple, Bayer knows the timing for this experiment is perfect and is excited by the growing interest in entrepreneurship. “I spend a lot of time at college campuses,” he said. “It warms my heart to see how schools are embracing entrepreneurship.”
While Bayer hopes that the cafe will bring profits to the company, there are additional benefits to the partnership. For instance, it gives the company the inside track on potential new hires. Still, given Bayer’s emphasis on giving back to future entrepreneurs, Saxby’s is hoping to share some of the profits with the university in the form of a scholarship. “I feel like it’s a match made in heaven,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”