I’m sure that I speak for about 98 percent of the population when I say that coffee and waking up each morning go hand in hand. I wasn’t always a coffee connoisseur, but when you find yourself drinking one or two cups each morning, you may find yourself becoming something I always dreaded – a coffee addict.
So when I woke up one morning to meet Stephanie Frances of Prodigy Coffeehouse at 9:00 am, I was faced with a dilemma. Caffeinate myself the minute my eyes open, or wait two hours for my daily fix, which meant I could treat myself to the ever so elusive latte. I went with the latter, and brought half of my bank account to splurge on a nice artisan coffee. To my delight, a 12 oz. latte is $2.70 – unheard of in Denver – and it’s not just their prices that keep people coming back for more.
The nonprofit coffeehouse is located in Northeast Park Hill, and was once an old Grease Monkey Auto body shop. You can still see remnants of the tracks where mechanics inspected cars while you sip your coffee around the bar. Frances, who first launched the idea of a craft coffee house and apprenticeship program in January of 2015, spent 18 months making Prodigy Coffee House a reality. This ranged from remodeling the storefront to actually creating a working business model for a paid apprenticeship program.
After spending 10 years working in Denver Public Schools’ alternative schooling with a focus on youth career development, Frances began to recognize the massive disconnect between students and modern day education. She started to ask herself, “What is the connection between having a job and a student’s school performance?” It was this question that led her to creating an apprenticeship program specifically for 16-24 year old youth in northeast Denver.
“Prodigy is an education infused workplace that allows youth to study a craft and deeply learn skills that can then translate into the professional world,” Frances explained. “We’re infusing concepts around cognitive psychology. The work place is so organically set up in alignment with how we learn.”
As Prodigy rapidly approaches their six-month anniversary (doors opened on July 30th), the team now consists of two salaried staff members and 10 apprentices. Frances, who works in partnership with Jeffrey “the coffee guru” Knott, explained that the apprenticeship program is running very smoothly. Because this role is aimed to help move youth out of poverty, each employee must be available 12-18 hours each week, but will make returns that average at $15 per hour.
The apprenticeship program lasts for one year. Frances said that during their first six months the youth learn how to be impressive baristas. At the six month mark, Prodigy will take on a new group of apprentices, which will allow the original crew to take on more of a leadership role.
“This is really an opportunity for youth who were previously unemployed,” Frances said “We are just helping to activate the wisdom and talents that are already present in this community.”
And for Frances, this role is much more important than simply remembering to clock in – it is about helping youth excel in their futures. To date, she said they have been excellent employees, with not one single person showing up late for the two week training period prior to the stores opening. And from what I could tell during my visit, they truly like the work they are doing – and the people they are working for.
Prodigy has done a tremendous job engaging the community during the first few months upon opening, and it is easy to tell they are running a successful and community-supported organization. We are thrilled to welcome them to the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood, and look forward to seeing the success of their apprenticeship program moving forward!